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Month: May 2005

Pas/Cal-Oh Honey, We‘re Ridiculous

pas-calBand Name: Pas/Cal
Album Name: Oh Honey, We‘re Ridiculous!
Best element: Modernized retro sound
Genre: Poppy indie rock
Website: http://www.pascalgoespop.com.com
Label name: Le Grand Magistery (http://www.magistery.com)
Band e-mail: info@pascalgoespop.com

Within ten seconds of listening to the first track of Pas/Cal’s EP Oh Honey, We’re Ridiculous!, it’s easy to peg Pas/Cal as being yet another copycat of The Beatles. But don’t give up on them so quickly- they’re onto something, and you’re about to find out what.

Within twenty seconds, you are going to want to get up, put your dancing shoes on, and dance all around your living room. By the end of the first track, you are going to be breathless and ready to sit down. This is good, because the second track is a bit more of a sit-down-and-chill-out track. Yes, they still sound like The Beatles, but as they say, everything old is new again, and Pas/Cal is going to let you know exactly what that means.

It’s not very often you’ll find something quite like Pas/Cal. Even if you hate The Beatles, you will still Pas/Cal because they are just so much fun. They’ve done the same thing that bands such as The Shins, Jet, and the Polyphonic Spree have done: take a very retro sound and turn it into something very poppy, very modern, very unique and very cool. There are points where you will want to dance your ass off, and other times where you’ll want to sit down and enjoy the beautiful sounds being presented to you.

The coolest part of this CD is in “The Handbag Memoirs.” The song pauses to present this really clean, really cool sounding triangle/xylophone, then goes right back to where it left off. Little things like this keep this CD from ever becoming boring, and make it all the more fresh and new.

It’s a shame this CD is only five tracks long, because it really leaves you wanting more when all is said and done. These guys are destined for stardom. You will want to buy this, take it, and play it for all your friends.

-Andrea Goodwin

starryblueskye24@aol.com

Fairmont-Hell Is Other People

fairmontBand Name: Fairmont
Album Name: Hell Is Other People
Best element: Neil Sabatino’s voice.
Genre: Indie-rock
Website: http://www.fairmontmusic.com
Label name: Renfield Records (www.renfieldrecords.com), Reinforcement Records (www.reinforcementrecords.com)
Band e-mail: neil@fairmontmusic.com

Some bands stay the same. Better bands tweak their sound between albums. The best bands evolve, putting out a musical diary of a life in progress. We still listen to Wilco because no one knows what’s coming next- the same thing with Radiohead. We love bands that we can’t pin down.

That’s why Fairmont is so good. When I first heard their new release Hell is Other People, I was shocked. My critic flags went up, and epithets were soon scrawled out in big letters on imaginary walls: “Where’s the acoustic guitar?” “Why is there a bassist?” “Why is Fairmont rocking?” and most of all “What possessed them to tone down the vocals?”

Yes, Fairmont hasn’t just tweaked their sound. They have given it an extreme makeover, and while it hurt at first, I think that the wrinkles have smoothed out in my perception of this album. Yes, it is way different then Anomie, which is still my favorite indie rock CD of all-time, but it’s also very strong in its own right. It retains many of the qualities that I liked about Anomie, but with different focus. Anomie is about being bitter- the acoustic guitar jangled in an angry way, the vocals were a nasally sneer, absence of bass lent an urgency to the sound, and the fey way in which they pulled it all off made Anomie a near-perfect snapshot of the Neil Sabatino mind. It is a virtually flawless album in many ways.

Hell Is Other People, despite the more bitter-sounding title, actually focuses more on making cohesive music than just being bitter. The songs, now fleshed out with the talents of John McGuire on bass, feature two electric guitars instead of the old acoustic/electric configuration. And, sin of sins, they’ve pulled the vocals down in the mix to more coherently mesh with the music. The result is an album of indie-rock that retains much of the Fairmont songwriting style, but sounds much more polished and ‘normal’ than the Anomie-era Fairmont did.

Is that polish a bad thing? It’s up to the listener to decide. It’s like saying, “Is the switch from ‘voice of a generation’ OK Computer to the self-indulgent Kid A good or bad?” There’s people on both sides. Some people will point at “The Monster You’ve Become” and say that it’s the dark, harmonic rock sound that Fairmont seemed to be aspiring towards on Anomie– others will point to “Monday” and scream that Fairmont would have never made a stab at such a generic rock sound on their previous album.

There are songs here that showcase the brilliance of Fairmont- The dark, overbearing tones of “Hypochondriac” hearken towards bright things for the rocking side of Fairmont. “Twenty/Twenty” allows the unique vocals of Neil Sabatino to shine -complete with vibrato, snarl, and weird melodies- in the context of rock. That’s where Fairmont should be heading. And no matter what anyone says, Neil Sabatino’s voice is great. You will never forget it, and you’ll hum along with it. Therefore, it’s great.

So is the polish a good thing? I would say yes, because, all points considered, Hell is Other People is a good album. It’s a great album to drive to, you’ll get some of it stuck in your head, and you’ll be able to relate to a lot of the lyrics. They’re not all bitter- in fact, only “The Monster You’ve Become”, “Your Pictures on My Dartboard”, and “4th of July” even approach becoming caustic.

If the point of a review is to decide whether to buy a CD or not, I say buy this- no question. Fairmont will always be light-years ahead of the average indie band. But back to theoretical musing- could Hell is Other People be Fairmont’s The Bends before they accomplish their OK Computer? Only time will tell. Hopefully they’ll keep evolving and the next album will show us a completely different side of Fairmont.

-Stephen Carradini

IndependentClauses@hotmail.com

El Oso-Whichever Chapter Covers Now

el-osoBand Name: El Oso
Album Name: Whichever Chapter Covers Now
Best element: Unique take on indie-rock
Genre: Indie-rock/indie-pop
Website: http://www.eloso.net
Label name: Contraphonic (http://www.contraphonic.com)
Band e-mail: eloso@eloso.net

There’s just some voices that can not be silenced. Even after they stop physically coming at you from your speakers, they resonate in the corners of your room, the headspace of your car, the attic of your mind. In a figurative sense, El Oso possesses one of those: a jubilant, joyous, unique indie-rock voice.

In a much more literal sense, vocalist Jim Hanke has the voice I’m describing- a light, soaring, yet highly sincere and gripping voice that glues me to El Oso. His voice is used with great precision throughout the album, from soaring lines on the minimalist opener “Country Radio” to plaintive lines on the rockin’ “The Great American Novel” to the distorted whispers that accompany the dark, cramped “Lions”. If that little grocery list didn’t give you an inkling of El Oso’s sound, this next line should: El Oso plays indie rock with occasional electronic tendencies and an emphasis on pop relatability.

And since they emphasize the pop elements of their sound, those are the elements which turn out the most. The elegant piano line here, the electronic pattern there, a splash of slide guitar and bells- all used sparingly and for great effect. The basic set-up is guitar/guitar/bass/drums- but what they do outside of that set-up is what makes El Oso shine musically. The best example of this is the powerful “Mt. Iceberg”, which cues up a chorus of male voices before dropping down to a click-drumming pattern, a bell kit, a piano, and hushed vocals. To say that it’s a contrast isn’t doing it justice- it’s a statement.

If you like the Shins, you should definitely check out “Julie Ann Fitzpatrick”- it’s a thrill that the Shins would be envious of. If you like the Strokes, you should check out “Natural Life”- you’ll dig it. And if you like downtempo, mellow stuff, you have to check out “Bury It and Smile”.

If a critic says he hates something, I usually go out and buy it to see for myself. If a critic says he likes something, I’m not as interested in it, for some reason. If I need to thrash El Oso to get you to go buy this, then I’ll do it- because you need this album if you like indie music. There’s no way around it. Whichever Chapter Covers Now will be on my top ten of 2005 list, and probably towards the top three. Until then the voice of El Oso will echo in my head.

-Stephen Carradini

IndependentClauses@hotmail.com

Bricks for Shoulders-Demo

Band: Bricks for Shoulders

Album: Demo

Best Element: The screaming vocals.

Genre: Hardcore

Website: www.myspace.com/bricksforshoulders

Label: Self-Released

Band E-mail: N/a

I don’t get this album. Bricks for Shoulders is a hardcore band, but the vocals are almost all done in spoken word. The screaming that is done is rough, but I like it. It almost seems like the band wants to be a spaz-core band but wants their lyrics to be understood. This causes the lead vocalist to sound really stupid while he is half screaming half singing. At times the spoken word works but it is overshadowed by the times when incoherent screaming would fit the bill much better. The demo was recorded on a piece of poor quality home recording equipment, which makes it hard to hear the guitar part. Not only is the guitar part hard to follow, there is no bass part. The band consists of two people, a guitarist and a drummer. I don’t like two person hardcore acts because the guitar can’t fill in for the missing bass.

The band gives off a strange image. The song titles are beyond bizarre; Track one: “How Are You Still Breathing With My Hands Around Your Throat?”, track two: “Fill in the Blanks While I Load My .35”, and track three: “My Prelude Had Horses, Now I Own Gerbils, Thank You”.

The whole album paints a strange picture of the band. If they would commit to being a spaz-core band instead of being half spaz-core and half indie, the band could have a future- but I can’t really see this current style working with anyone.

-Scott Landis

redbassist66@comcast.net

The Blue Ink Rebellion-The Unauthorized Works of Robert Frost

blueinkrebellionBand: The Blue Ink Rebellion

Album: The Unauthorized Works of Robert Frost EP

Best Element: The powerful command of emotional intensity.

Genre: Piano-rock

Website: www.theblueinkrebellion.com
Label: N/a

Band E-mail: theblueinkrebellion@hotmail.com

As a critic, I always think I’ve heard it all- so when something new comes my way, I’m thrown for a loop. I got the Blue Ink Rebellion’s EP The Unauthorized Works of Robert Frost and I laughed a bit- the business card contained in it said “Piano Rock with Emo Rap”. Piano rock? Good! Emo rap? Excellent, it’s the only type I can stand for extended periods of time. But together? That just sounds ridiculous.

Score one for the Blue Ink Rebellion. They set me straight on my views of what can and can’t be done. They set out to accomplish exactly what they said on their business card- Piano Rock with Emo Rap. The opener track “It’s Okay to Drown Sometimes” features a very Mae-like piano-rock backdrop, and some excellent songwriting. The singer sings all the way until a particularly cool section where a chorus comes in, drowning out the rest of the quickly fading band. After the chorus ends, the band rocks out, and a white guy starts rapping. It’s good rap too- he’s really spitting the syllables.

The vocalist is excellent- his range is great, and his tone is quickly identified with. It’s not a Damien Rice voice or anything- but it’s a good voice nonetheless. It accompanies the dreamy piano-rock that they play excellently. The dreaminess is what sets The Blue Ink Rebellion apart from Mae musically- where Mae would rather build layers of sound, The Blue Ink Rebellion builds a sonic wall that resonates like one great sound instead of individual parts.

The rapper is the element that puts The Blue Ink boys in a different league, though. The rapping is always implemented at the most emotionally and musically dense part of the song, creating even more tension. It’s simply stunning when the rapper starts flowing on “This Adamant Forte”- it’s powerful in a way most bands just dream of being. This tiny EP shows great promise for the Blue Ink Rebellion. They have immense potential, and here’s to hoping they don’t break up before they have a chance to make it big. This is one band you will be hearing about, if they can just hold together long enough to get noticed.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com