Now that You Asked: Emotion?
I’m sure I’ve said it somewhere before, but I am a very emotional music listener. Good days will provoke simpler bands such as Rise Against, Billy Talent, and Northstar, while bad days cause me to listen to heavier bands like Poison the Well, Alexisonfire, and Thursday. My girlfriend makes me want to listen to The Beautiful Mistake, The Beloved and Funeral For a Friend. Whatever emotion I’m experiencing, I have a band that I like to listen to. It even goes beyond emotions; it even comes down to what I’m doing. Sleeping, eating, studying, even waking up. Each of these actions has its own playlist.
I have a problem (Zack, Allison, Stephen- don’t even respond to that statement). I can’t sleep without music on. What is even stranger? I like to fall asleep to hardcore. Not just “hardcore” like Saosin or Thursday but bands like Norma Jean and Century- bands that make my friends cringe when they hear them and give pop-punk fans nightmares. It’s odd because this is the same music that makes me want to dance around like a madman during the day.
Now this month has been finals review month, so I haven’t had as much time to focus on new music. Ok, I haven’t listened to anything new this month- but I’ve listened to a lot of my favorites from the past (See my Top 5 of the month). I’ve always enjoyed studying to these albums because they provide a stable background sound that allows me to focus. Now that finals are almost over I can go back to enjoying the new bands that I find every month.
Music is an emotional experience. I believe the best way to enjoy music is to listen to an emotionally charged album that really hits home with your feelings of the moment, then lay down and let it wash over you. When you think about it emotion is really what creates music. Right?
I have a weird relationship with my favorite band. Usually your favorite band is the one you listen to most, or the one that you know all the lyrics of, or the one that you run out to the store and buy their CDs the day they are released. But that’s not the way I roll. No, Relient K isn’t any of those.
Now I know a lot of you just scoffed at me, but before you yell “MAINSTREAM” and click the back button on your browser, hear me out. I’ve followed Relient K since late 2001- basically, all of my music-listening life. Relient K’s breakout disc The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek was the third or fourth album I had ever received (DC Talk’s Jesus Freak and Philmore’s , were first, and I got The O.C. Supertones Strike Back at the same time as I got RK’s disc).
I listened to the album and I was enthralled- it was happy-go-lucky music that you could dance to and sing to and jump around to, but it also had an extremely serious side and a mellow side- just like me at age 13. I loved everything about the album, and it was a serious turning point in my love of music. Music wasn’t just a thing to do when I was bored- music was about life, and music could in fact BE life. The discovery of this fact is what determined that I was going to be a music critic.
After a short hiatus, Relient K released Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, but Three Do, which had four different covers- a marketing ploy to drum up support for a half-baked album. There are some great tracks on this album, but a lot of the album shows Matt Thiessen having a transitional album- pretty sure he doesn’t want to do punk all the time, but not sure he can let himself go into straight pop just yet. Relationships take precedence on this album, squelching a lot of the religious insight, philosophical pondering, and tight wordplay of The Anatomy. I had pretty much the same problems over this period in time. This album was in heavy rotation when it came out.
After a filler EP, Relient K returned with Mmhmm– a self-assured title to a self-assured album. Matt Thiessen has conquered some of his relationship demons, and although he’s pushed them into the background of his mind, they still came up occasionally. This album was concerned with killing the deeper demons of past mistakes. Needless to say, it’s a cathartic whirlwind of an album, traveling from the optimism that can come from finally ridding yourself of guilt and doubt to the gut-wrenching ‘I’ve been there’ of “Who I am Hates Who I’ve Been”. The music is getting more and more mature, layering beach-boy-esque oohs and ahs over more piano presence, less punk, and more additional instrumentation (banjo is a big contributor in this category).
At this point in life I was doing pretty much the same thing- killing of the demons of past mistakes. By this point I was convinced that Matt Thiessen was reading my mind.
Their next EP wasn’t a filler EP- many of their EPs are, but this one really takes a spot of its own. “The Apathetic EP” showcases the melancholy side of Relient K- even though the past troubles are over and gone, we still are struggling with today’s troubles. Life doesn’t get easier just cause you closed the former bank accounts. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. The piano and very observant, melancholy lyrics dominate here.
Where do they go next? Where will I go next? Who knows. Hopefully Relient K never breaks up- because if they ever did, there wouldn’t be a soundtrack to my life any more. And that would sadden me.
Band Name: Russkaja
Album: Aaban (it’s Russian)
Best Aspect: Fresh blend of genres
Genre: Ska/Russian Folk/Rock
Label: Chat Chapeau
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s no secret that Independent Clauses loves new stuff. It’s the foundation we’re built on- quirky, interesting, bizarre, incredible new stuff. Russkaja is all of those and more.
Russkaja is a party band, no doubt. They talk about goin crazy, drinkin vodka, and skanking. Yes, skanking- this is a ska-hybrid band. But it’s not fused to a pop-punk band or a rock band- oh no. Russkaja is a ska band fused to a traditional Russian folk outfit. I kid you not- this is true. Russkaja boasts instrumentalists rocking such non-rock instruments as saxophone, trombone, and even the non-ska violin.
But wait, it gets better. The lead vocalist sings in a low, raspy, energetic voice that sounds like your fun-loving Russian uncle. The group vocals that back him up are awesome as well, although they are mostly devoid of accent, which is almost a sad thing. But since the choir is singing in German, it really doesn’t matter too much. The lead singer is sings in Russian and English, just to make things more complicated.
But even with all these seemingly disparate parts, opening track “Good Evening” emerges as one brilliant 4-minute song. Yes, all that junk happened in one song. I haven’t even addressed the other three songs yet. That should be proof enough that Russkaja is a force to be reckoned with. These four songs are amazing in their style, range, audacity, and talent- they can play Russian-inflected ska (“Good Evening”), feel-good beach-pop (“Murphy’s Laws”), rock’n’roll with horns (the eerily Five Iron Frenzy-ish “Come on, Come on”), and punk with horns (the SERIOUSLY Five Iron Frenzy-esque “Zaporozhez”). On “Zaphorozhez”, you can’t even tell that they’re a Russian band- they sound just like a 3rd wave ska band would, except for the vocals. These guys aren’t hacks- they know their stuff really well.
This EP is one of the more amazing finds I’ve ever found on Independent Clauses.com, and Russkaja is the easily the best ska band I’ve heard in a long time. They’re definitely the most unique and interesting ska band I’ve ever heard- they stretch the boundaries of ska in very, very good ways. If you like ska, this CD is a must- you will LOVE this band. If you want to hear something very fresh and exciting, this is also your CD. This band is amazing- I could keep heaping praise on them for pages, but you still wouldn’t understand. Just listen to it and discover the amazing Russkaja for yourself.
Pandora: Death Cab for Cutie
A lot of people don’t know about the amazing music resource that is Pandora.com. Pandora.com is part of the Music Genome Project, which is basically an attempt to categorize every song ever written, or come as close as possible. This is only complicated by the fact that people keep releasing music. But the guys and girls of the MGP keep hacking away at it, and we the listeners are all the better for it.
We’re better off because we can go to Pandora.com and type in a band or song name and their computer will automatically spit out a string of songs that you would probably like if you like that original song/band. In fact, they create an entire radio station out of songs you probably will like based on what you supplied. You listen to the songs they play for you, and if you like them (chances are you will), then you can buy the song off itunes, buy the album off Amazon.com, and most importantly tell them if you did like the song or not. If you didn’t like the track, they’ll take it out of your radio station, and play something a tad different to see if you like that. Thus, the longer you listen, the more likely you are to hear things you like. Eventually you’ll hear nothing but stuff you like. It’s an almost flawless way to find new music. In a monthly feature from now on, I’ll be picking a band and plugging them into Pandora. I’ll then list out some bands that played on the station that was created for that band. This will introduce you to some new bands, as well as introduce you to the power of Pandora.
This month’s band is Death Cab for Cutie. The opener song was “Champagne from a Paper Cup” by DCFC. The rest were as follows:
Innocent Vigilant Ordinary by Appleseed Cast.
Charging, panicked track that takes their trademark start/stop dynamics and herky-jerky melodies and makes them work beautifully. I was especially impressed by the vocal performance.
Island Lost at Sea by Stellastarr*
Brit rock with mournful vocals that swings from introspective to optimistic- the twinkly guitars and mood shifts make this longer track delightfully interesting. No, it really is long.
Plastic Smile by Brahman
A short indie-pop/power-pop song with slightly yippy vocals and a dancy drumbeat, this track is sure to put a smile on your face. Whether it’s plastic or not is up to you, but I was sold when the “whoah-oh”s came in. Definitely a good track to drive to.
Time Will Tell by Holly Golightly.
This one actually got the thumbs down on my Pandora player. I just didn’t like her vocal style too much- the laid-back tone clashed too much with the punky, retro vibe.
Roped and Tied by Codeseven
This dreamy track is definitely a keeper. Even with a constant bass-drum thump, this song seems to mosey along at its own pace. The guitars and vocals both contribute to the mood, as the guitars establish more mood than riff, and the vocals establish a lot of melodies but don’t really throw down a specific hook for the chorus, creating a very beautiful track that doesn’t feel like a gimmick. A very flowing, sincere track.
That’s it till next month. If you have a band to suggest for next month’s Pandora Chronicle, e-mail it to me at IndependentClauses@hotmail.com . Or, go to Pandora and look it up for yourself. Or both!
Band Name: Red Sky Morning
Album Name: Blood For Ink
Best Element: Variety of styles
Genre: Hard Rock, Ska, Grunge
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Hailing from the northeastern U.S., Red Sky Morning comes packing a loaded gun known as Blood For Ink, a jam-packed album featuring eleven songs with something for everyone.
The album kicks off with “The River”, a 70’s rock tune that seems all too familiarly like Zeppelin. Singer Jordan Manasia jumps into the track with the first showcase of his versatile vocals, emulating a low Robert Plant with strained vocals amidst the melody. Lead guitarist Chris Grupinski adds to the song with a funky wah solo near the end, a cool yet pleasing sound. The catchy and well written chorus about seeing one’s friends at the bottom of the river is sure to get people singing along after their first listen.
From 70’s rock the album takes a drastic turn into a funk/reggae beat with the song “Afterlife”, a short song leaving the listener in a zoned-out state of mind. The mood picks back up with “The Drop”, however, as the guitars axe out catchy riffs while Manasia sings through distorted effects in the background. Brandon Revilla’s crashing drums usher in a wailing solo near the end to speed the song up and take its energy into “Crawl”, a song that echoes way too much of Nirvana’s glory days. With Manasia’s excellent songwriting, however, the return to grunge roots is welcome. A weird blend of notes and keys sends the song into a dark blur before exploding into a finish with an up-tempo chaotic ending capped off by a small a cappella bit.
“Young Men” gives alternative rock listeners their turn on the volume knob.
With relaxed, higher vocals, Manasia sends his disciples into a reflective mood as he ponders whether those who grow old will still stand by what they believed as young men. A stream of “la dee da”s allows for one to get lost in the music.
The 70’s rock sound returns with “What Matters”, this time with a Hendrix feel. An awesome bass melody permeates the stereo midway through the song. Grupinski adds his guitar and together the music builds, faster and faster with each repetition until the head-banging chaos culminates into a finally glaring chorus.
The album carries on through yet another ska-sounding track entitled “Let It
Go” that features a trumpet, tenor saxophone, and baritone saxophone.
“Manmade Stone” signals the beginning of the end for the amount of “la la’s” a listener can take, but features a refreshing 1980s alternative sound. “The Executioner” begins with a soft, peaceful melody filled with awkward harmonies that alternate with heavy grunge chords.
Manasia’s raw, strained vocals return in “Raw Meat” and mix in with an intriguing melody and nice dynamics. The album ends with “All a Dream”, an atmospheric track sustained by Michael Murphy’s driving bass. It ends peacefully and calmly, leaving the listener wanting more.
Overall, Red Sky Morning’s Blood For Ink is a nice CD to add to anyone’s collection, whether they be a ska, grunge, hard rock, alternative, or punk rock fan. There’s enough of each on the album to appease everyone. Murphy’s bass lines flow superbly with Revilla’s hard-hitting drums, and Manasia’s vocals blend in well with the mood that Grupinski’s guitar flares off in each track.
Got $10 lying around? Think about it; you could either invest it in your car and drive down the block before having to refill, or you could buy Blood For Ink and rock out in five different genres for 45 minutes. It’s not even a question. You know what to do.
Band Name: Jeff Huffines
Album Name: Demos
Best Element: Strong use of mellow moods.
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: n/a
This CD is one track- a l9-minute-long string of minute-long demos that end mid-song. It is a true demo CD- a laundry list of the various things that Jeff Huffines can do with a guitar, a home studio, and a lot of ideas. There’s some funk here, there’s a digression into medieval music, and there’s even a show tune, but the best material here is the mellower, moodier fare that comprises about half of the disc.
While the show tune is an odd choice, it’s not as odd as some of the other choices here. The tune immediately following is played primarily on accordion, until the accordion player gets attacked by what sounds like the end of the world in the form of bassoon, low-pitched rumble, and some cha-cha percussion. Lovely.
But it’s not all bizarre showmanship in this display. There’s a vibes-heavy track backed up by a glitching beat that actually sounds pretty sweet in a lo-fi sort of way. Another reverb-heavy piece sounds like the soundtrack to the inside of a cave- it would be perfect for movies. Another quirky gem is a frantic vibes pieces that morphs into a chilled-out psych piece with wind noises and a cowbell in the background. I was sad to hear this one end.
The final track is one of the best- a mellow piece on strings, it creates a really nice ambiance and gives a sense of finality to the demo. The high parts, while they sacrifice a little bit of beauty for technicality, are extremely ear-pleasing.
Jeff Huffines is quite an interesting artist. While he needs to stay away from medieval music, war marches, and bass-heavy stuff, he does have ample success in creating unique, vaguely psychedelic moods with his mellower fare. I would like to hear a longer form of his mellower pieces- if well composed, they could be great for fans of Portishead or Broken Social Scene.
Band: New Grenada
Album Name: Modern Problems
Best Element: Great Variation of Songs and Perfect Production.
Genre: Indie Rock
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I couldn’t wait to pop the well-constructed digipack entitled [url”>Modern Problems by the Detroit 4-piece New Grenada in my player when I received it. Throughout the booklet there are 11 retro diagrams (or Figures) which each represent a ‘Modern Problem’, like police brutality, prostitution, and acid reflux disease. Needless to say, I was intrigued by the initial packaging. Luckily New Grenada did not forget that it is what is on the inside that counts, and from a musical perspective the CD is even more impressive then its housing.
From opener “Emergency Brigade” I immediately noticed that this was not just another indie-rock band. The opening track begins with the rhythmic styles of the bass and drums, with organ-sounding keys soon following. This really sets a unique tone within the opening seconds. Catchy and aggressive vocal work joins next. Some subtle guitar work completes the flavorful blend of unique indie-rock, which even offers a sing-a-long chorus to boot!
I love a band which has variation and New Grenada definitely mixes it up. By the time “Parting Shots” comes on (track 3), you clearly have no idea what to expect next. The angst-filled voice of bass player Nicole Allie cuts through the sound like a knife with her bold, thought-provoking lyrics and intense vocal delivery. Her bass work is also more than admirable and sounds incredible in the mix. I love hearing a bass in rock music which has such a dominant sound. Truth is, everyone in this band is more than proficient… John Nelson and Shawn Knight contribute the male vocals and guitar duties. Their lead and back up vocal work is fantastic, especially when fused with the feminine voice of Nicole. Knight also contributes the keyboard work, which adds another dimension to their sound and really helps give the band an edge on the competition. Last and certainly not least is Dave Melkonian, the man behind the kit. Dave can play both a simple backdrop and more eclectic drumming styles, often trading them one moment to the next; this makes him a more than capable skinsman. The recording of Steve Albini is the cherry on top! His legendary engineering is more than apparent on this disc- it is crisp and clear and heard throughout the album… each instrument is perfectly blended in the overall mix and really makes this great CD even more entertaining.
I won’t bother detailing a full play-by-play of the tracks but there are a few more standout tracks I should mention. The socially conscious “Chumps” is marriage of indie and punk rock which can’t help but get your foot tapping and you singing along. The progressive style of “Episodes” is a well-crafted alternative rock song.
New Grenada is the kind of band that you can’t help but appreciate. Their music is simplistically catchy and entertaining, yet it has an abundance of complexity in its depth. The CD will make waves when it hits stores on June 13th…if you’re a fan of Indie Rock you can’t afford to miss this.
Band Name: Hacia Dos Veranos
Album Name: Fragmentos de Una Tarde Somnolienta
Best Element: Progressive instrumental sound
Genre: Instrumental progressive rock
Label Name: Muy Moderna Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Hacia dos Veranos is definitely unique, to say the least. Fragmentos de Un Tarde Somnolienta is 13 minutes of instrumental music that creates an unexpected atmosphere. It ranges from an ambling, rambling walk in the park (“Preludio”) to a somber, tired mood (in the aptly titled “Sueno”), to a combination of the previous two (closer “Despertar”).
In their case, unique certainly does not mean “bad”. Actually, for a brief instrumental EP, the musicianship is quite good. Where many instrumental artists fail to create a meaning in their music, Hacia Dos Veranos communicates a feeling through music rather than in words. The uniqueness is also in their style, which is rarely in a major key and oftentimes disjointed, but without sounded cluttered.
That said, the succinctness of this CD is a blessing. The members of Hacia Dos Veranos did what any good artist should do – say what needs to be said and don’t drag it out. There is nothing worse than an instrumental CD that drags on and on ad infinitum right into boringness. Thankfully, Hacia Dos Veranos has avoided this and, in doing so, has a pretty good CD to back up their musicianship.
Band Name: Garth Michael McDermott
Album: Highways and Ghosts
Best Aspect: Strong instrumental talent
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sadly enough, before I even gave Highways and Ghosts a listen, I had a feeling I was in for a real drag of an album. To be quite honest, I think it spawned from this fact: Garth Brooks sucks. And so does Dillon McDermott. Combine the two and…well, you get the idea.
As far as musicianship goes, Garth Michael McDermott is as sound as any. His voice is very strong and his instrumentalism (guitar/piano) follows suit. Yet the problem lies not within his skills as a singer or musician, but in his songwriting originality, or lack thereof. Note for note, the listener knows what is coming. Had I wanted to (and I didn’t), I could have sung along with each chord progression my first listen through. For the most part that’s not my cup of tea, but for many that’s exactly what they’re looking for. Local hits radio stations are a good example- every song on Highways and Ghosts feels like it should be playing muffled in the background of my family physician’s office, mixed in the daily shuffle between Daniel Powter and Jason Mraz.
“Kicking Up the Dirt,” the first song after the minute-long intro track, is fueled by a heavy, slightly western-style acoustic rhythm and is accompanied by choppy, Dire Straits-esque leads. It’s catchy, and perfect for listening to with your friends when they refuse to listen to any more of your “weird crap”. Consequently, this track clutched my vote for best song on the album.
“Records To Your Rivals,” track number three, features a bland piano backing and resembles everything I despise about current pop or alternative music; pre-packaged songs for teenage girls and older guys looking to hook up with teenage girls. Perfect for myspace-ers.
“Up From Nothing,” numero cinco, packs the twang and sorrow of today’s country. With lyrics like “color my world,” I think I’ll look elsewhere for thought provocation.
The other songs on Highways and Ghosts are all very similar in style. McDermott is not by any means a poor musician. Unfortunately, however, the lack of luster in his material on Highways and Ghosts will not set him aside from what is being produced by the pop artists who have already made it big.
– Carson Vaughan
Weird, Weirder, Weirdest:
We get a lot of press releases here at Independent Clauses.com, and some of them are awesome, some of them are weird, and some are awesomely weird. This month I’m recapping some of the most awesomely weird things we received this month.
1. Weird: Man improvs on piano for 60 hours and 1 minute without stopping.
May 25, 2006 (Rome, Italy) — Christian Calcatelli, composer pianist from Rome, Italy, has been awarded a unique official Guinness World Records certificate for setting the world’s longest solo music internet broadcast. Christian improvised on a Steinway D concert grand piano for 60 hours and 1 minute at the international fundraising event known as “The Calx Project” which took place at the Galleria Alberto Sordi in Rome, Italy, on 15-17 September 2004.
Sorry to be logical here, but what about food? Water? Bodily functions? I guess he’s the world champion of “Hold it in” as well….
2. Weirder: The Destroyed are back together.
70s Boston Punk Band, The Destroyed, Releases New CD, Russian Roulette
Critically popular punk band is still at it!
Bert Switzer, 57, drums, and J.D. Jackson, 51, guitar and vocals, have recorded the new punk CD, Russian Roulette. Both were original members of The Destroyed. (1977-79).
I hope I still rock when I’m nearly 60. These guys have my admiration and my confusion, as well as the “weirder” spot of the month.
3. Weirdest: Shelly Blake and Joel Grip to Perform 48 Hour Benefit Show
June 9th through June 11th, 2006 - In celebration of the release of Blake's new CD, Discourse and Correspondence (Fall Records), musicians SHELLY BLAKE and JOEL GRIP will perform for 48 hours straight, as a duo, with no breaks. This is a benefit for the Homeless Voices Heard project of European non-profit collective Public Health Music (www.publichealthmusic.com). The Homeless Voices Heard campaign assists homeless children in Ukraine by involving them in music. Run by Grip, the program incorporates instrument donation with music workshops as well as performance opportunities and hands-on training in aspects of music production. Donations will be accepted at venues across Baltimore and online. Separate donations will also be collected to support the rebuilding of Baltimore's Tarantula Hill house and performance space which was destroyed by a fire in March.
The show will be in constant movement from venue to venue and environment to environment. At random, Blake and Grip will be dropping by venues throughout Baltimore and will take no breaks from performing - they will be playing music for 48 hours straight, even while in transit from one place to the next. Venues will include lofts, record shops, public parks, Baltimore's transit system, and city piers. The entire 48 hour performance will be documented by NYC filmmaker Phillip John Usher.
The initial venue will be posted on Blake's website (www.shellyblake.com) shortly before the show; a hotline will be established to call in and find out where Blake and Grip are throughout the 48 hours. Philadelphia's Niagara Falls (Honeymoon Music) will open the show at 10PM; Blake and Grip's set begins at exactly 11:15PM on Friday, June 9th and will continue peripatetically without sleep or interruptions until 11:15PM on Sunday, June 11th.
I think they have officially become my heroes. This is the coolest, weirdest idea ever. I can only guess how this idea came about, but I bet it was something along the lines of this:
Grip: "Hey John, would shoot a movie of us if we played for 48 hours without stopping for sleep?"
Usher: "Yes, yes I would."
Blake and Grip: "Let's DO IT."