Sunday, September 17, 2006
Murder by Death/Appleseed Cast/Unwed Sailor/Street to Nowhere
The Conservatory, Oklahoma City, OK
I have looked forward to this concert for a long time- mostly because my favorite song in the world is The Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky” (which I wrote about last month), Unwed Sailor’s [u]The Faithful Anchor[/u] is a fantastic album, and we’ve written about Street to Nowhere in Independent Clauses before (we reviewed their first-ever demo back when we weren’t even monthly). This concert was worth waiting for.
Street to Nowhere kicked off the bands, and while their sound was the least technical, it was cemented by a solid vocal performance. Their moody indie-rock often conformed to the soft/loud/soft/loud pattern of songwriting, but with lead singer Dave’s impeccable two-octave range, whistling, occasional yelling, and miscellaneous vocal noises, the song were never, ever boring. They played a couple songs I recognized, the best one being “Dead Cliché”, which was passionate and gripping. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy their set, which is uncommon for an opener band, but when you’re this talented, it’s easy to enjoy. You can catch them on tour for the next month with The Futureheads and the Cold War Kids. They’ve already toured with the Format, too…so they’re going places.
Unwed Sailor brought their brand of highly technical, complicated, intricate, difficult rock to the forefront next. Their songs were so long that they only played 3 or 4, but what they did play was fantastic. Weaving guitar lines, dainty key sections, thundering drum beats that reminded me for a second of the Appleseed Cast’s complex drumming, and a bassist that almost decapitated two guys in the front row with all of his violent thrashing resulted in one of the most engrossing shows I’ve seen in a while. Their sound was fantastic, and even without vocals, the crowd was pretty involved. With exciting guitar riffs and a firm grip on dynamics, it was to be expected.
Appleseed Cast set up a surprisingly small amount of equipment- one small keyboard, two guitars, a bass, and a standard drumset except for one additional small china cymbal. There weren’t a huge amount of guitar pedals, nor was there much other stuff. It is sheer musicianship that makes the Appleseed Cast’s music- not trickery. While they didn’t play “Fishing the Sky” (much to my dismay), they did play extremely well, mixing up material from their new album [u]Peregrine[/u] with older material. The highlights of the show were “Sunlit and Ascending” and “Mountain Halo”, though- both off the new album, but both astounding in their overall presentation. Watching the drummer play was like watching a gymnast do a routine- arms and legs were always moving in strange directions, although many of the drumbeats seemed to move around the drum set in a circular fashion. While their movements were pretty static, their lack of activity was made up for in sheer power and musical excitement. They rarely talked to the audience, preferring to play tape-recorded segments in a 50′s radio announcer style about the state of the world and politics and things in general. It was cool, although I would’ve liked to hear them say more. Overall, their confidence and composure was impressive. When a band can stop a song in the middle to fix a broken bass drum beater, then start up without missing a note, you know they’re onto something good.
Finally, Murder by Death attacked the stage. I say attacked, and I mean it. I have never seen anything quite like Murder By Death. The rhythm section looked like it just graduated from a hardcore band- I’m not sure if they always dress in all black or if they whipped it out just for this show, but their tattooed, black-wearing, ear-pierced, intimidating selves looked ready to beat someone’s face in. The guitarist and the cellist dressed in garb more reminiscent of an indie-rock powerhouse, but they still looked ready for a wild throwdown. Their wild sound seems almost impossible to put to paper- sometimes like a wild psychobilly band, sometimes sounding like a hardcore band with a cello, as lead singer Adam Turla yelled the lyrics and the audience yelled back at him. Sometimes they sounded like a straight-up rock band, with crashing drums, throbbing bass, and wild strumming on a guitar in the shape of flames (it didn’t have flames on it- it was carved in the shape of flames. How tight is that?). The best moments came when the cello was featured- I have never seen anyone attack a stringed instrument with as much fervor as cellist Sarah Balliet did. Her arms were frantic, working the bow and fretting with such speed that I didn’t think that anything cohesive could possibly be coming out, notewise. But I was always proved wrong, as the music was always immaculate. I have never seen a band love being a band as much as Murder By Death does- joking between songs, laughing while playing, smiling often, they just seemed to love being who they were. Songs about zombies? Awesome. Songs about brothers? or whiskey? Anything goes, as long as they like it.
Some people at the show had every lyric memorized, and yelled along and sung along and whispered along, making the atmosphere even more intense. It was the most fun I’ve had at a concert in a long, long time. If and when Murder by Death comes back, I will be there. They’ve converted me.
I think it’s the only show I’ve ever been to where I had four extremely positive experiences out of the four bands I heard. Definitely a tour worth catching, if you can. It’s an amazing time.
Monday, September 9, 2006
The Opolis, Norman, OK
I was a little bit heartbroken when I heard that Corban Eldra broke up- they were on my top 5 of “Bands that will make it if they stick around”. As is the case with many bands who make that list, they just didn’t stick around.
I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that many of the members of CE had regrouped as The Uglysuit. Having been admonished by members of Corban Eldra to see Kunek play, I thought it a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and see both the famed Kunek and the hopefully great Uglysuit.
The Uglysuit played first, and although I knew that the members had retained a little bit of the Corban Eldra style, I was not expecting what I heard. From beginning to end, it sounded like Corban Eldra had added some indie-pop elements into their sound. Seeing as they were already amazing, this was an incredible development.
Their sound takes the form of epic indie-rock that starts small and usually crescendos to a full-out, head-banging slab of intricate, heavy, loud indie-rock. With six members on stage, this is not difficult to pull off. But after they got done with the huge, beautiful instrumental breaks, a charming, quirky keyboard would lead the indie-pop charge as melodies broke through that were hummable, lovable, and undeniable. Their final song “Iceland” was a fantastic example- setting the entire audience in an upbeat, smiling, dancy mood. I can safely say that as incredible as Corban Eldra was, The Uglysuit is just as amazing and more. I can’t wait to see them grow- after all, this was only their third show.
After an extremely long set-up, Kunek finally pronounced themselves ready to go. But when you have upwards of 20 instruments (if you count each vocalist as an instrument) to set up, it should take a while. Just watching them set up set a buzz through the audience- clarinet, harmonica, three keyboards, two acoustic guitars, cello, violin, bass guitar, electric guitar, and many, many more instruments got mic’ed and soundchecked. Once they began to play, their talent became undeniable. Comparing Kunek to Coldplay would be easy but wrong- each song that Kunek played had much more variation, instrumentation, intricacy, and sheer beauty than Coldplay could ever command. But yes, the keyboards were the primary instruments, and the songs were generally melancholy, sweeping, and beautiful. The lead singer has a beautiful voice that shone through above the compositions (because I feel bad calling what Kunek plays ‘songs’) and generally tied everything together.
Their show wasn’t all sound, though. They had lights set up that cast a soft blue and orange glow over everything, only expounding upon the mystic, mellow feel to the room. Each song had something unique to offer, whether it be a harmonica intro, a clarinet solo, or two guitars playing off each other. Kunek’s set was mesmerizing and unlike anything I had ever seen in such a small venue- the power and presence of their music seemed to beg for a bigger hall, a bigger audience, and a bigger response. Kunek is definitely destined for big things, if [i]they[/i] can just stick around.
Even though the concert was relatively short with just two bands, they both played impressive sets and made a profound impact. I look forward to seeing both of these bands again- hopefully in a larger setting than the Opolis.
Album Name: Stealing Ain’t What it Used to Be
Best Element: Lo-fi Bastardly drunken sorrow
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Members: Jeff– voice/whiskey. Sammy– guitar/piano/40s. Geoff– double bass/cigarettes
Beards will give up on you before you ever listen to them. Saturated in whiskey, bathed in sorrow, then groomed by hopelessness, every song is a well of poetry, laced by the sad sighs of a bowed bass and intricate guitar. Their recent minimalistic recordings are a soundtrack to tragedy and failure. While most people don’t go looking for such a heavy dose of misery as entertainment, fans of Elliott Smith, Pedro the Lion and Mazzy Star may find themselves stairing at the ceiling on a rainy day with Beards on repeat.
While two of my favorite songs were “Self Made Martyrs” and “We Shall Acquiesce”, “People Are Trying to Ruin Everything” was the stand out track of the album. This song boasts beautiful guitar work, an intresting chord progression, classic Beards lyrics and haunting bass lines that all weave in and out of eachother. After listening to this song, there is no doubting Beards are talented and their chemistry is what people spend their lives searching for. These are modest fellows with an apparent fragile threshold for creation. I can’t wait to hear what bastardly tale they tell next.
It’s a pretty simple contest, really- you send us your name, mailing address, and shirt size, and we’ll send you some music. The first two people who get their name and mailing address to me will also get a shirt. If you want a specific type of music, you can specify genre. Otherwise, you’ll just get whatever we pick up. We may send you one, maybe a couple CDs- who knows. It’s just another way that Independent Clauses works for you. So e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and get your free stuff.
Fishing the Sky
Even the most optimistic people in the world have their down days. And I’m definitely not the most optimistic person in the world, so I have more than my share of down days. That’s why I’m really, really glad that I know what I have to do get out of my slumps. It’s really simple, actually- which is good.
I listen to “Fishing the Sky” by the Appleseed Cast. It’s old-school Appleseed- I don’t even know what album it’s off of. I could look it up, but that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t even really listen to the Appleseed Cast (except for their new album, which is mind-blowing, but that’s a different article). I just know that “Fishing the Sky” by Appleseed Cast is my favorite song of all time. It appeals to me on all levels.
From the very first winding, passionate guitar line to the distant piano to the heavy melodic bass to the separated, complex drumming, I love it all. The way the instruments interact is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The guitars seem to be serving up some urgent, vibrant message, and the bass is the interpreter that lets the message fly loose. The vocals merely serve to make the song more passionate- I’ve never known the lyrics, and while I may learn them so I can sing along at an Appleseed show (man, I hope they still play this song), they won’t ever really matter to me. The passionate yelps and yells are really what matter- it’s not what he’s saying, it’s how he says it.
This song is the sound of vibrant anticipation. It is the sound of expectancy. It is the sound of how I feel about life. It is what I know about life. What does Fishing the Sky mean? I don’t know what it means to the Appleseed Cast, but to me it means that when life here on earth is going wrong, there’s still the sky to love. You can go love what hasn’t come yet while you work through what you’ve got. It’s always being passionate, not always about the same thing, but always about something.
Whenever my passion is running low, I listen to it, and I air-guitar my way around the room. When Christopher Crisci screams out in the middle of the song, it gives me shivers. I love it.
I don’t have to be depressed. I have my favorite song ever.
Album Name: …We Are Still Alive
Best Element: Sincerity
Genre: Punk Rock
Label: Deep Elm Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
It’s not everyday you hear genuine punk rock anymore- let alone competent punk rock. Yet Latterman, a four piece punk band from Long Island, NY, have achieved just that with their latest album …We Are Still Alive. As the title implies, it pays homage to the finer days of punk: back in the glory days, before the corporations realized there was money in punk rock, skateboards and ridiculously strong hair gel.
On trying to review this CD I kept picking out these little minor flaws: off-shot production, key issues on vocal harmonies, swaggers in the tempo etc…yet none of this made the album any less enjoyable. Generally speaking, I would have been off-set by these annoyances. Then it clicked in!
SINCERITY…. Yep- sincerity. That was it. None of the so-called “flaws” even mattered. This album has heart, which is something no engineer, click track, or vocal instructor can get for you. Out of a field over-saturated in piles of manure comes four guys who break through the barriers and overcome all the obstacles thrown at them just by picking up their instruments and rocking out. As a musician there is nothing more gratifying then loving what you do… and through Latterman’s music (and lyrics) there is no question that despite the hard times and sorry state of the mainstream media they have accomplished what a very small percentage of musicians can achieve: SATISFACTION.
Though a short listen, …We Are Still Alive is entirely gratifying with ten songs balancing just over the 30 minute mark. All songs are good, but my personal favorites would have to be “Mumbled Words and Ridiculous Faces”, “I Decided Not to Do Them”, and “This Basement Gives Me a F*cking Headache”. Also I really like the album closer, “Will this be on the Test?”, which ends things off on a solid note by declaring at the end of the song: “I’m still learning, We’re all still learning that we never have enough space but we seem so far away. I’m listening.”
And I, for one, will keep listening for more from Latterman! And if you feel like something is lacking in your punk rock diet I suggest you start listening to this immediately.
Band: Jena Berlin
Album: Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going
Best Element: Artistic incorporations into old-school emo
Genre: Emotional Hardcore (or True Emo)
Label: Unsigned (Sinful, really)
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever since I’ve known of emotional hardcore, I’ve always harbored a dream of eventually being the vocalist for a true emo band- be that one guy who runs around on stage, screaming his guts out, flailing, and generally going nuts. But I also want to be able to sing- to be in a band that flexes its artistic muscle just as much as its intensity. I want to be creative and intense.
If I had my way, I’d be lead singer for Jena Berlin- cause Jena Berlin is creatively intense and intensely creative. Their album Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going is without a doubt the greatest emo album I’ve heard in the 2000’s. Its combination of musicality and intensity is unrivaled by any other band in the scene that I know of.
Every song sounds like a manifesto- like a battle cry from the front lines of a war somewhere. Whether it’s the extremely dissonant hardcore of “Looking Over the Wall”, the melodically mid-tempo “Aiming for August”, the punch-in-the-teeth intensity of “Nothing Personal, Just Business”, or the piano-led interlude “A Bar in Michigan”, every track here holds a fire in it that either brims right below the surface or explodes outward in very noticeable ways.
And every song here is different- not one of them is a straight four-on-the-floor rager, although each song usually has a part that makes you want to throw up your fist and scream your head off. The intro of “Looking Over the Wall” is as punishing as they get, but they also throw down a twinkly indie-rock interlude in the middle of the song. You may not believe me, but I can hear reggae influence on “Maybe New York”. There’s definitely some punk influence, as in the intro to “Fine Line” before it reveals an atmospheric indie-rock bent in the instrumentation. Then, as soon as the atmospheric synth gets situated, it’s dropped for a straight-ahead rock section. And then it’s eventually brought back. It’s genuinely unpredictable music. I can’t ever guess whether the vocalist will come in with a sung vocal, a screamed vocal, or a yelled vocal- they’re just that diverse and complex. Parts that sound like they should be accompanied by sung vocals end up being screamed and vice-versa. I would say that Jena Berlin sounds like it wrote in a vacuum, but it really sounds more like the members studied a generic hardcore band and purposefully ripped apart every convention they could find.
Needless to say, it’s brilliant. I haven’t ever enjoyed a true emo album all the way through before, as the staunch, repetitive stance usually puts me off about 15 minutes in. But Jena Berlin encompasses so much territory in their debut album that I can’t help but continue to listen- I don’t know what’s coming next, so I’m compelled. This is what exciting hard music is. This should be required listening for any hard band that’s starting out. Period.
Band: Joanne Juskus
Album: See Your Face
Best Element: Beautiful Vocals
Female vocalists: there can never be enough of them. Sure, Tom Waits might have a voice perfectly made for singing about dancing Cubans and drunk jockeys; sure, Black Francis might be able to scream about sex and mutilation. But sometimes it’s just not satisfying- sometimes we just need something softer and more, shall we say, feminine. Thankfully, we have artists like Feist, Eisley, Sleater-Kinney, and Norah Jones. Now we have another artist to add to that ever-growing list: Joanne Juskus.
Juskus’ debut album, See Your Face, is a journey in itself. From its more experimental tendencies to its spiritual leanings, See Your Face owns its own style and needs not borrow outside ideas. The albums opens with “Holy Man” and an almost Krishna Das-like chant- but don’t be quick to judge. Wait until she starts singing like a young Joni Mitchell.
One of my favorite things about this album is the variety of instrumentation present. You can find everything from hammered dulcimers to Indian slide guitars to a variety of percussion instruments. The wide range of percussive instrumentation is not surprising, considering Juskus’ past with the band Telesma, who blends “the ancient and modern in instrumentation and spirit”. Telesma seems to have rubbed off onto Juskus’ style. “Nothing” is a definite change in pace after the first five tracks, reminding me vaguely of Meredith Brooks, only not as angsty. It also features an amazing mandolin solo. However, this change is only temporary and the album reverts back to its slower pace after the track.
“Missing You” is a beautiful track, featuring only Juskus’ voice, her piano, and a violin. “Together Apart” is possibly the best track on the album and truly allows Juskus to set her beautiful voice on display (as if the rest of the tracks don’t already).
Joanne Juskus has succeeded in many aspects with the release of See Your Face. She has created an album so diverse that it cannot simply be heard and understood. There is a depth to every track, a reason for every rhythm, and a meaning behind everything. Be prepared to make some room on your Ipod- I think she just beat out Robert Pollard on mine. This is one woman that you should keep an eye out for.
Band Name: Mannequin Men
Album Name: Showbiz Witch
Best Element: Clean guitars, mix of old school punk and grunge
Genre: Early grunge, Old School Punk
Label Name: Swamp Angel Records
Band Email: www.myspace.com/mannequinmen
Hailing from the Chicago area and working to conquer it since their conception in 2003, the Mannequin Men proclaim themselves as a live act not to be reckoned with; one can’t argue the energy present within their songs. Ten songs fueled by the phantoms of Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, and other grunge and punk gods, the Mannequin Men’s album Showbiz Witch comes off as the perfect dose for an angst junkie. Though the album lacks amazing quality as it was recorded reel-to-reel in the band’s loft, for all true grunge and punk fans, quality of sound will not matter.
The opener “Liar” immediately gets your head bobbing along to the guitars of Ethan D’Ercole and Kevin Kujawa. An overshadowing yet desired clean guitar proves right away that you don’t need distortion on 10 to be heavy. What the music lacks in gain is replaced with raw energy and attitude, as evident in Kujawa’s strained vocals and Seth Bohn’s hard-hitting drumming.
Eerie and dark, the title track “Showbiz Witch” is a standout on the album and redeems the previous tracks’ fault. With echoes of Nirvana’s rawness on songs like “Paper Cuts”, the song puts the listener in a trance. Kujawa sings lower, grungier vocals while D’Ercole glides over bassist Rick Berger’s dark melodious rhythm.
“Sex off T.V.” comes off as almost a joke, being a “song” with no real musical depth to it at all. Instead, bland vocals crawl over dozens of random effects and background noises (kudos to organizing that on a recording). Though the lyrics are slightly more intriguing and deeper than most songs on the album, the utter lack of music leaves the song a turn-off. “Spiders in the Hallway” is more unnecessary noise except for a part of the verse where Kujawa sings softly, quietly, over peaceful music that is one of his best vocal performances on the album.
Starting with peaceful and by now familiar clean guitars, “Dissect” descends into heavy flowing chords. Kujawa’s English punk influence is unmistakable in this song, and the haunting vocals he provides make this one of the better songs on the CD. Bohn and co. thunder out a rocking march beat in the tune to keep the listener’s heart beating, wondering where the song will go next and adding dynamics all the while.
With ups and downs, Showbiz Witch is definitely not a savior album of any kind to either grunge or punk. It is, however, testimony that the energy and emotion infused in both genres of music will not soon vanish; not as long as the Mannequin Men are around to say anything about it.
Band: Marc With A C
Album: Life’s So Hard
Best Element: Quirky, interesting lyrics.
Genre: Lo-fi pop
Anyone who listens to a fair amount of lo-fi music should know that a single band can fall into several categories: the single musician who strums an acoustic and sings sad lyrics, the band that plays electric and has quite a few ingenious guitar solos (Built to Spill of course), and miscellaneous. I am afraid that Marc with a C falls in the latter of those categories. Marc must have been thinking the same thoughts as Eric Elbogen because, simply stated, Marc with a C feels like Say Hi to Your Mom’s little brother. While it might not feel as polished or as subtle, the quirky lyrics are paramount to both. Life’s So Hard is an acquired taste, or something that you might think is amusing after the first ten listens. The lyrical content may surprise or even mildly offend some listeners. For example, during “What the Hell Were You On”, he bashes his hypothetical baby-boomer parents by describing their poor parenting skills. This, of course, is all in good fun and a part of the album’s style.
The majority of songs on the album are entertaining. In “We’re All Going to Die,” he ad-libs and says “cheer up emo kids, you think life’s hard now,” “it’s only going to get worse,” “wait until you have to do your own taxes and laundry.” “Counting Down” is Marc with a C’s most unnecessary track on the album, no matter how funny it may be hearing him say that “we’ll have a sleepover/we’ll watch Homestar Runner.” However, I do give kudos to Marc for adding some good allusions to pop culture, as it gives his lyrics character. The following track, “Diane Works for Ozzy,” which is about a girl with superpowers, lyrically feels like it should have been on The Flaming Lips’ Clouds Taste Metallic. Wayne Coyne should do a cover.
This is one album that I will always save for a day that I am feeling particularly sarcastic- and when you hear it in full you will understand. It is the little things included in Life’s so Hard that give the album its lyrical character. The album will probably not win a prized spot in your collection based upon musical merit, but that is beside the point. This album’s lyrics are original, inventive, and pleasantly surprising for the most part.