(http://www.myspace.com/brasslungs) Brass – Set & Drift
Alternative indie-rock that is well performed but lacks lasting appeal.
I hate name-dropping “alternative.” But sometimes that’s all one can do to describe a band’s sound. Brass is that kind of indie rock group: an “alternative” one. Brass pulls off the alternative genre more effectively than most bands you hear on the radio, however. For being essentially self-produced in every fashion (even their screen printed CD booklets are DIY), they sound surprisingly polished. Their instrumentals and vocals are never nervous or amateur. However, I feel that with all their talent, Brass appears to unfortunately be taking the traditional alternative indie band path, and that path is overcrowded, overdone and lacks any real zest.
Brass’s instrumentals could be described as minimalist, and the songs are designed so they take a backseat to Joe Webber’s singing and lyrics. Joe Webber’s voice is quite good, and his voice never battles the instrumentals for priority. The same formula can be heard in most bands, but Brass’s execution does not leave them without an identity or character. The two best tracks on Set & Drift are “Autumn Hex Signs” and “The Optimist.” “Autumn Hex Signs” gets to lyrics right off the bat, which is surprising for an opening track of an alternative rock album. Usually one is subjected to an “epic” minimalist instrumental entrance which transitions into the singing. But Set & Drift decides to shove the listeners into its raw intensity. Before the listener is able to digest the sound, Brass slows down the tempo and lets the listeners collect their breath. It’s an exciting set-up which guarantees that the listener will not be bored with their first taste of the album. Unfortunately, it makes the rest pale in comparison.
“The Optimist” takes a much more tried and trued formula for its sound, but invites some interesting lyrics. In the chorus Webber sings, “Ever the optimist/ with every heat attack I see/ adopt a new belief.” As the speaker struggles with finding something positive in life, the singer also struggles with the raw and bleak instrumentals that he almost battles at some points. It’s a neat, subtle contrast that shows that Brass is definitely thoughtful with their sound.
The first two tracks do not speak for the rest of the album, however. Brass is too liberal with their instrumentals. Some songs become a bit longer than they should be, which makes it a bit of a laborious listen. Overall, I really am impressed with Brass’s technique and execution, but I fear that they, like many alternative indie bands, will be forgotten by time.
Band Name: Airport Cathedral
Album Name: Jetlag
Best Element: Singular songwriting vision
Genre: Melancholy Indie-rock
Label Name: Burning Building Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some CDs are perfectly named. Albums like Ben Folds’ Rockin’ the Suburbs, Five Iron Frenzy’s Live: Proof that the Youth are Revolting, and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea have titles that perfectly relate what you can expect to find within the confines of the compact disc you’re about to listen to. Airport Cathedral’s Jetlag joins the ranks of perfectly named albums because this album sounds like jetlag. It really, truly does.
And even though jetlag sucks when you have it, this CD does not suck in any way, shape or form- no, sir. Airport Cathedral has crafted an entrancing 9-song travelogue that perfectly documents the feel of being hours behind and unable to sleep.
From the very get-go with “Cure-Alls”, Airport Cathedral lays out on the table certain artistic ideas that will be themes throughout the album- thick, layered instrumentation, slightly fuzzy vocals that act more as an extra instrument than the central focus of the sound, and an overcast disposition. “Daggers” introduces three more essential elements of the Airport Cathedral sound- electronic augmentation, repetition, and epic build-ups. The electronics come in the form of a synthetic drum track that lends a separated, cold feel to the sound, and the repetition comes from a single clanging guitar that extends chords out to their greatest length. The epic build-up climaxes at around 2:40, when the gloomy vocals cry out “I only wanted to hear your voice!” over a sea of ringing guitars, reverbed drums, and pulsing bass. It’s one of those moments that must be simply rapturous when heard live.
The album as a whole is a grand experiment in tension- each of these songs grows and falls, complicating and simplifying, bringing the listener into a trance-like state. Although the songs have a familiar tone about them, none of them sound too much alike that you start to get bored- and that’s hard to do in a genre of this type.
This is an extremely cohesive album that will grow on you immensely. It may take you a while to fully get into the dour musings of Airport Cathedral, but once you are entwined in their web, it is hard to escape it, as their mood permeates your own. From songwriting to vocal performance to mood to artwork, this CD succeeds on all cylinders. Indie-rock could learn a lot by observing the emotional honesty, songwriting clarity, and personal sound that Airport Cathedral has a firm grip on. This is a stellar release for anyone who likes deep, mellow, melodic music like Neutral Milk Hotel, Damien Jurado, Pedro the Lion, and any bands who have copied the aforementioned trendsetters.
Anything August Eh?
By Nadine Ariate
Canada- the country viewed as having perpetual winters, igloos, and infamous for the phrase “eh”. Canada is also the country most musically renowned for Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain and Sum 41. However, in the explosion of musical talent coming out from Canada and hitting international airwaves, are there any more bands in the country most well-known for its frigid temperatures that have the possible chance of making a spark in the music industry?
The name Anything August may not mean a lot to most people. However, this amazing band coming out of Kitmat, British Columbia, is quite a powerhouse of rock, emotion and fun. Their music can be heard on Purevolume, their personal website and even Myspace. My favourite song of theirs is definitely “Last Minute” because of the aggressive electric guitars, simple drum beat and amazing bass. I’m not too good with nitpicking the musical details, but I really like their stuff. I was able to snag a bit of their time and get these questions answered.
IC: How did all of you get into the music you’re into now?
AA: By just listening to what we like and following it where it goes, or the same ways anyone would get into the music they like.
IC: What was the biggest challenge(s) for you guys as a band initially?
AA: Getting people to take us seriously, because there were a lot of closed minded people in our high school at the time. Plus, our first whack of performances was probably pretty bad too.
IC: What is your biggest challenge now musically?
Our next goal! Anyway…to get to it, to step up and evolve – that’s our challenge. That, or nightmares about UFOs…UFOs freak me out.
IC: How did you get your name?
AA: I dreamt it, yo. I plucked it from the flow of my subconscious on a relaxing trip to Vancouver to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. What a wicked show they put on.
IC: What influences your music most?
AA: Life, other music, positivity, rabbits, and coal miners – you know, the usual.
IC: Do you guys all work together on the songs in a “jam session” or work on the material in sections before meshing them together into one song? How long does it take for song writing usually?
AA: It can be any of those things, it can be a combination of those things, or it can be everything at once. It could take from twenty minutes to a couple weeks to write a song for us. It depends, because sometimes they come out quick. Although [there are”> some songwriters take years to write songs, we haven’t done one of those yet. [We”> couldn’t imagine working on one song for a year and beyond.
IC: What are your top five major goals as a band?
AA:5. Rocking out.
4. Stuffing our pants.
3. Becoming successful.
2. Jammin’ them tasty lixx.
1. Writing tasty tunes!
IC: Finally, the most important question ever – do you prefer Twix or Mars bars? Please explain why.
AA: It really depends what kind of delicious mood I am in at that very moment when it is time to choose. I personally would go for the Twix, because Mars is just too nuggety for me…Twix are pretty deadly now that I think of it.
Just by looking at the responses, you can tell that these guys like having fun but are also serious about the music they make. I suggest listening to the songs “Last Minute”, “Run”, and “Anastasia”. With the whole promotional mumbo jumbo aside is the question about Canadian bands and their credible musical heat true? Are there any more bands in the country most well-known for its frigid temperatures that have the possible chance of making a spark in the music industry? Definitely.
Anything August is just one band and that is just one interview. There’s a lot of undiscovered talent out there that has yet to be heard and the Canadian stereotype definitely doesn’t match the music making scene up north. Where do you think bands such as Default, Nickelback, The Arcade Fire or even Michael Bublé come from? [editor’s note: or you could go with Of Montreal, Broken Social Scene, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Despistado, Stars, and Inner Surge”> Igloos don’t even come close.
Band Name: Dropgun
Album Name: Devil Music
Best Element: The use of multiple vocalists
Genre: Old-School Punk
Label Name: Ho Fist!
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Dropgun’s website header sums up this band wonderfully. It says “Dropgun, Filthy Rock and Roll”- and that is exactly what it is; filthy, disgusting, dirty old school punk. While the old-school punk genre will never be my favorite, it works well with Dropgun. The four men of Dropgun have taken all their anger and rage and thrown it into 10 tracks (plus three throwaway tracks that total 18 seconds in length) about general life in a crappy town in the Midwest. The songs of Devil Music focus on things like slutty girls, a guy who wants to be in a band, suicide, and being poor. Nothing surprising, but it really is nice to hear a band get back to basics in the punk scene. These guys have taken the sounds of The Misfits and Dead Boys and added their own twist in the form of extended guitar solos to get a sound that is original- a rarity in the punk scene. If old-school punk is your thing, this is an album you must check out. If not, you still might want to, because Dropgun isn’t your average punk band.
Band Name: Elijah Wyman
Album Name: Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories
Best Element: Unique songwriting style
Label Name: Blue Duck Records www.blueduckrecords.com
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like the wicked cousin of Sufjan Stevens, Elijah Wyman creates highly orchestrated folk songs augmented with a bevy of auxiliary instruments and sinister, intense moods. The songs on Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories are not paeans to good times or melancholy ruminations- they’re sordid revelations and devilishly jubilant exclamations that make Wyman seem like the ringleader of a demented New Orleans circus.
This is nowhere as evident as on the opener and title track. The song starts out with a hillbilly gallop on the drums and a dark ditty strummed on an acoustic guitar. A clarinet slides its way into the mix, creating eerie New Orleans comparisons. Wyman’s voice comes in: smooth, lithe, and yet a little bit rough and cracked around the edges. It’s a low voice until he throws it up an octave to create a more hectic sound, transforming potential shivers into realized ones with the jump. The ominous refrain of “Son, I’m coming…” will remain with you long after the album is done spinning- it’s just perfectly done.
But not all the tracks here are rooted in folk. “The Storm Outside Your Car” is a seriously creepy funeral dirge that’s built on nothing more than a plodding bass line, a persistent bass drum thud, clinking chains, a single wailing saxophone, and wildly weird vocals. It’s a bizarre way to end an album, but it fits Wyman’s odd persona. “Dove’s Blood, Desert Sand” is almost tribal in nature, as a resilient repeated drumbeat is the only accompaniment to Wyman’s fraying voice.
These experiments are interesting, but in the end they’re not as consistently interesting or replayable as Wyman’s acoustic-based tracks, which comprise the majority of the tracks here. “Even in Blue Ink, You are Black and White” is a mostly-acoustic track, revealing Wyman’s lyrical skill and casual pop sensibilities. This isn’t to say that “Blue Ink…” abandons Wyman’s crazy songwriting skills, but it’s comforting to know that even songwriters with such a highly pointed perspective can be halfway normal occasionally.
That deeply defined songwriting perspective is shown very clearly in highlight tracks such as the title track, the latin-tinged “The Life You Hide is the Life You Lose”, and the stunningly beautiful “Girls Should Drive Automatics”, which features an awesome hammered dulcimer part.
Wyman’s unique take on making music is sure to garner him a lot of fans in the new-folk scene, as Wyman has found a niche somewhere between The Decemberists, Black Heart Processional, and Stars with Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories.
Band Name: The Five Mod Four
Album Name: Whiskers
Best Element: Humble, affecting songwriting
Label Name: Contraphonic Records (www.contraphonic.com)
Band E-mail: www.myspace.com/thefivemodfour
Whiskers, the latest release by the Milwaukee quartet The Five Mod Four, is comprised of twelve bittersweet tunes. For the most part, the instrumentals of the Five Mod Four, including glockenspiel, farfisa, and cabasa, are admirable. The quartet’s unadorned, un-tampered guitar rock (distortion and effect free) and simple percussion are humble enough to find attractive. That’s the sweet.
All is well (here comes the bitter) until frontman Michael Wojtasiak sidles in with what he has apparently bamboozled people into believing is “sardonic wit.” Apparently what some are naïve enough to believe is “wit,” I call “off key.” And I’m not talking about the give-‘em-a-break-they’re-indie type of off-key. I mean the kind where the vocals are so often out of tune that listening becomes a burden. Unfortunately, the opinion I hold is not based off simply one or two tracks. Wojtasiak’s vocals consistently annoy throughout. There are select times when a vocal harmony is produced and is extremely welcomed, yet if Whiskers is an inside joke, I must be on the outside.
Elliot Smith frequently recorded tracks in his apartment on borrowed four-track cassette machines that would be released free of studio touchups. Although only three of the twelve tracks on Whiskers were actually recorded at home, the rest feel it as well. The problem is that Elliot Smith could pass off home-recordings as “personal.” The Five Mod Four cannot. Whether the recording style used on Whiskers was meant to be, or The Five Mod Four just didn’t have the cash to snag a quality producer, the album seems very distant and very primitive. Of course, that still wouldn’t stop them from playing a quality live show. Maybe that’s where the sardonic wit comes in.
“Rock and roll is here to die,” sings Wojtasiak. Oddly enough, I’m afraid Whiskers is damned for the same outcome.
Band: Forgive Durden
Album Name: Wonderland (5-Song Pre-release)
Best Element: Intricate song writing and I mention it is catchy as… well you know what.
Label: Fueled By Ramen
Band E-mail: email@example.com
This 5 song pre-release is just enough to give you a surface look inside Forgive Durden. Generally I prefer to view an album based on its whole. However, with only 5 songs, I figure it may be most accurate to take a deeper look into each individual song.
-Beware the Jub Jub Bird and Shun the Frumious Bandersnatch:
With an odd name culled from a Lewis Carroll poem titled “The Jabberwock”, this track is filled with hooks and catches everywhere, from the groove-heavy opening riff to the powerful, super-poppy, (dare I say it?) almost boy-band-esque chorus to the stunning outro. Truthfully this is probably my least favorite track on the CD, but by no means is it a weak track. When you listen to the other 4 songs you’ll understand it is up against some tough competition.
This is actually the opener off the CD and gives a better prelude to their sound. This song drives and pushes you along every step of the way, showcasing some great rhythm work. This song has an amazing bridge which begins with some wonderful vocal harmonies that lead into a powerful build-up which explodes into a final chorus before the completion of the song.
-Il Tango Della Signora Francesco di Bartolommeo di Zanobi del Giocondo:
Easily my favorite track of the five, as the Latin groove had me wanting to dance uncontrollably. Luckily, I was able to fashion up my keyboard to my hips so I could type and tango at the same time. A song like this just goes to show how talented and unique these guys really are. On the full album, it is properly placed at song #5. The drumming during the last 30 seconds of this song is simply fantastic.
-Parable of the Sower:
This track is laid back and beckons up thoughts of much older musical inspirations. The song takes a drastic shift for the later half of the song, turning the mellow mood into a circus vibe turned sing-a-long. It’s quite difficult to describe but absolutely stunning to listen to. I love the unexpected.
-For a Dreamer, Night’s the Only Time of Day
Another great track title, and another great track. I love the creativity these guys have not only within their titles but in their musicianship and overall sound. This song blends the catchiest of catchy with a progressive vibe and some fantastic musicianship. Likely my second favorite of the five tracks.
As a whole, the musicianship is uniformly tight and very well executed. The lead vocals are powerful, emotional, and perfectly suited for the music- and the backing vocals and harmonies are fantastic as well. The instrumentation was great and as with their songwriting there is a broad approach to the musical styles from song to song. Most impressive was their approach to songwriting, as every one of these 5 tracks had a hook that will draw in one’s initial attention paired with something completely unique. Whether it be off-tempo madness, Latin fusion, or spastic build-ups, each song clearly has its own niche.
Though the band clearly has their influences, they put their creative foot forward, followed by their talented and skillful musicianship. The fact they had me singing along with its sheer catchiness was merely a coincidence… Or was it?
Forgive Durden is band that not only deserves your attention, but is prepared to grab it. I have to admire a band that can make music that is this ready for mass consumption, but creative and unique enough to please a critic like myself.
Look for the full length ‘Wonderland’ when it drops May 9th 2006, and check out their website to see some really cool animated videos. www.forgivedurden.com
Band Name: Gates Called Beautiful
Album Name: A Glimpse of Innocence
Best Element: Screaming Vocals
Genre: Christian Screamo
Label Name: Album: Independently released. Band: Chaos Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s screamo. The instrumentals are OK, the “melodic vocals” are annoying and the screaming vocals are good- your basic set-up for a screamo band. Gates Called Beautiful just adds the Christian twist.
The instrumentals are fine, but they aren’t anything to get excited about. The band uses basic chord structures that you hear in every band, although the bass is impressive. While most bassists will stick to the root of each chord, bassist Mike Norton is willing to move around, play with octaves and use scale tones along with chord tones.
Like most screamo bands, Gates Called Beautiful found it necessary to include “melodic” sung vocals. This vocals turn out to be the weakest part of the album, as they are flat, boring, and overused throughout. The screaming vocals are very harsh, very emotional, and quite enjoyable; the band would have been better off going with only screaming.
I don’t usually make a point of mentioning the religious aspects of Christian bands, but with Gates Called Beautiful it really does affect their music. The lyrics are very focused on Christian values and the band advertises the fact they are Christians through their website.
A Glimpse of Innocence is a mediocre album- I could take it or leave it. If you are really into the screamo genre and are a serious Christian you’ll want to check them out, as this is a band that will be on the 2nd stage at Creation next year. They have talent- I’m just not sure they are showcasing it properly.
Band: Last Falling
Album Name: In Loving Memory
Best Element: Variety, and it’s over one hour of music!
Genre: Rock / Alternative
Label: SNF Productions
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, probably makes these cats a little hard to notice, but with their recent release In Loving Memory, 3-piece Last Falling is definitely on their way to something great. In Loving Memory is a masterful 16-track, hour-plus LP full of driving alternative rock songs.
Within the realm of rock there are three types of band. First and most common are those who congest our airwaves by rehashing the same old music, using the same 3 chords and same old hooks. Second are those who create something entirely fresh. This, however, is not always well received by the average listener. Lastly, there are those who expand on their influences and push the envelope to make something both fresh yet comfortingly familiar.
Last Falling has not been plagued by the first choice and lies mostly behind Door #3. Clearly tipping their collective hat to many great modern rock influences as Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, they manage to honor their predecessors without coming off as a clone. Throughout the 16 songs the members tread familiar alternative rock territory, but each song has its own marking, having a ‘familiar’ sound without sacrificing too much artistic merit.
There is certainly no shortage in the talent department. The rhythm section of John Evangelista and James Callaghan is exceptionally tight and well calculated. They provide an excellent wall of sound for front man Bryan Ferguson to showcase both his guitar work and his born-for-rock vocal stylings.
For a three piece this band sounds big- in fact, they sound HUGE. The production on this CD is fantastic, as every riff, vocal line and additionally added instrument is precise and clear. Upon numerous listens this album unlocks all sorts of added post-recording touches.
The album is split in two sections: songs 1-8 and 9-16. In Loving Memory begins with the powerful ballad “Hold On”, which seems to set a mellow vibe for the rest of the album. However, the next couple songs are more along the lines of traditional Alternative Rock, fusing driving melodies and powerful radio ready choruses. Tracks like “Wasting Away”, “Heroine No. 2”, and “Get Away” have everything it takes to become traditional alternative rock classics. “Delight For A Passion (That Reigns To Destroy)” is a fantastic mood-setting instrumental track which really adds a nice break in the album. “Call You From Heaven” is another nice ballad along the lines of the opener.
The second half of the disc begins fusing laid back rock with some heavier alternative stylings, similar to some of the earlier songs. “One-Point-Six-One-Eight” may be my favorite song on the disc: after a dark yet beautiful progressive build, the song explodes into aural madness, combining beautiful ambience with balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll. The odd, yet fitting “Rue Morgue” is a 2 minute instrumental with some unique organ work, while “Dying And Miss Treated (The Mourning After)” is a post-rock masterpiece. It’s sadly too short at only 1:30. These songs set the stage for the album’s climax on the nine-minute final track “Something Real”. This song really combines the best elements of all the previous songs, building them into one fantastic, emotional track.
This album had a confident beginning which only excelled as the album progressed. I found the later half of the album picked the right side of my brain a little bit more. Many of those tracks were a bit more ambient and progressive sounding, which is more up my alley.
Overall In Loving Memory is confident release. At over an hour long, it is a worthwhile investment, too. There may still be a bit of fine tuning before exploding as the next big thing, but they have their foot well into the door and will be turning many heads with this release.
What about your old albums?
It is pretty obvious that I am a huge advocate of new music. I love to search through bands on Purevolume and find small bands with 100 plays that are doing something new or great. But as much as I love doing that I also love going through my own music collection and finding good albums that I haven’t listened to in a year. And I truly believe that listening to old music that you like is as important as finding new music. It keeps you from slitting your wrists when you can’t find good music, you have something to compare the new music to, and you are able to find great new things in old albums.
About three weeks ago I pulled Funeral for a Friend’s Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation out of my collection for the first time in over a year. It was an album I liked but wasn’t terribly impressed by at the time I got it. Listening to it now, I’ve found a wealth of innovative musical and lyrical content. Every time I pull an old album of my collection it seems surprise me- and because of the lack of recent releases, I’ve been pulling a lot of old albums out.
Recently I’ve re-discovered:
Boys Night Out – Make Yourself Sick
Billy Talent – S/t
Funeral for a Friend – Causally Dressed and Deep in Conversation
Thrice – Vheissu
Check those albums out and try getting some of your old albums out. It will really surprise you when you realize what bands you have forgotten about.