Friday, December 8th, 2006
The Opolis, Norman, OK
Ryan Lindsey is ubiquitous in the Norman scene – and yet, I’d never managed to see him. I’d even planned to go to two shows where he was set to appear, but I missed both of them for lame reasons. Third time’s the charm, though, and I watched his set with enthusiasm.
The first noticeable fact about Ryan Lindsey is his wonderfully quirky dry humor. It took a few between-song exchanges for the audience to warm up to the stark delivery of semi-ironic humor, but once they did, chuckles were had throughout. His music didn’t take any getting used to, though – a charming indie-pop mix full of layered instruments, his set passed quickly and with much enjoyment. It seemed that the more layers he had the better, as several songs ended in a cascade of vocal lines, piano ditties, and guitar chords that gave off a little bit of a Sufjan Stevens vibe. Lindsey’s songs are more straight-forward then the intricate, ornate Stevens creations, but the “more is good” attitude with which the songwriting was approached seems the same. The fact that Lindsey accomplished the performance of all these layers with only his two hands and looping pedals is extremely impressive in its own right – it made his setup a little complex, but it looked cool in the end with all those microphones everywhere.
All in all, Ryan Lindsey is a great showman – knows how to work the audience, knows how to put on a performance, and knows how to write a song that you’ll hum for a good long time. I look forward to getting to know his material more.
Thursday, December 7th, 2006
Baptist Student Union, Norman, OK
I see a lot of coffeeshop singers. Usually they don’t impress me, just like seeing an emo band up at the Pinkeye doesn’t usually impress me. It’s just something I expect to see when I frequent the location.
But Cody Dunbar surprised me in a huge way. The first problem that Dunbar avoided was the sloppy rhythm that most coffeeshop singers employ. Do they think it makes them sound more artsy? I’m not really sure. Dunbar’s playing was so intensely rhythmic that I felt like bobbing and dancing to the beat – and there wasn’t anything but an acoustic guitar playing. On top of that, Dunbar can strum like an animal – he can move his hand in time quicker than anyone I have ever seen. I’ve heard of triple-strumming, but Dunbar is the only person I’ve ever known who makes that type of thing look routine. At one point during his set, he threw in an extremely complex rhythmic idea and set it off with a quick succession of harmonics – something you shouldn’t be able to do. I was blown away. His complex playing is only compounded by the fact that, akin to Ryan Lindsey, he layers and loops himself to make astounding songs out of the simplest ideas.
That’s simply his instrumental abilities. His voice is equally as talented – a strong, assured voice that isn’t high and whiny or low and gravelly. It’s a voice that sounds like it belongs to someone you’d like to know – a comfortable voice that doesn’t take much getting used to. It’s extremely comforting to listen to Dunbar play – you can get completely lost in the songs due to the amount of talent and hard work that went into creating them.
He keeps a band with him as well, and while they are talented (especially the bassist), Dunbar’s best work comes when he is playing alone, making heavily reverbed versions of Christmas carols, distorting his acoustic guitar, or blowing audiences away with his wild melodies and rhythms.
Dunbar is one of the most invigorating and exciting acoustic artists I’ve ever met. Cody Dunbar is definitely a name to watch for in the coming months and years, especially if you’re a fan of acoustic pop.
Band Name: Ammi
Album Name: Imitation
Best Element: Everything you like about indie-rock, made better
Genre: Indie Rock
Label Name: Common Cloud Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh yes, Common Cloud. You’re probably tired of hearing us rave Common Cloud releases by now, but that’s only if you haven’t actually checked out the bands we’re raving. If you did, in fact, go listen to Thin Cities, The Felix Culpa, or Ammi, you would understand why we keep loving their releases.
Yes, you’d understand that we like Common Cloud releases because they’re all fantastic. Ammi’s Imitation is no exception- like labelmates The Felix Culpa, they’ve taken their genre of choice and infused life into it. In Ammi’s case, the genre is hip, Strokes-ian indie rock. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Ammi is right up there with the Strokes in terms of simple creativity. It’s unfortunate that Ammi didn’t have an extremely poppy, populist first album to push them into the public eye before they started delivering indie-rock goodness.
Indie-rock goodness is what they deliver, with gritty, crunchy guitars, jerky stop/start rhythms, and the occasional high-hat-heavy dancebeat. The vocals alternate between wry spoken-word, sung vocals that range from entirely calm to totally desperate, and an injured yelp that covers the places where yelling/screaming would usually go. The yelp doesn’t appear too often, thankfully- they rely on other means of intensity.
The songwriting here is the real treat, as it is the place where they decide to get creative with things. You won’t be surprised by the vocal melodies too often, and that’s a good thing, as you’ll sing along. But when Ammi starts stringing together dissonant chords, chords that don’t belong together, and notes that aren’t even chords in a completely cohesive manner (“Screwtape,” for example), that’s where the joy of the album appears. That’s not the only paean to Ammi’s songwriting ability: their use or auxiliary instruments is highly commendable. They use organ, trumpet, and synth in a way that feels completely natural, which is hard to say of many bands.
Ammi’s keeps the listener in a state of expectancy by mixing up the pace and mood of the album. While the dark, dissonant overtones persist throughout, songs like title track “Imitation” and especially “The Somnambulist” are slow, pensive tracks that showcase the angst that Ammi can control. “When It Falls Apart” shows off the fact that Ammi’s guitarist can write a completely interesting mid-tempo song solely with unaccompanied guitar chords and rhythm, while “For What It’s Worth” sounds melancholy without sounding cheesy (although they flirt with the edge on some dangerously bright synth noises), and the repetitive “The Ascent of the Prodigal” builds from humble, minimalist beginnings to a intricate, celebratory song with a electronic/hip-hop vibe.
“Static” represents everything I like about indie-rock: snarky bass line, herky-jerky guitar line, intense but restrained vocal line, group vocals, nonsense syllables to sing along with, a slow build-up throughout, and a rocking part that you can throw your fist up to and possibly even mosh to. They know how to construct a song people will like but still completely blow people away, which is a gift that not many bands can claim.
Ammi has enough high moments on this album to make this review continue on for about another page, but I’ll leave them to you to find. Just know that if you miss out on getting in on the Ammi action, you’ll feel left in the cold when they go and get big. Ammi has all the pieces together- if they hit the road and hit the blogs, they’ll be in a dead heat with The Felix Culpa to be Common Cloud’s first breakout artist. Until then, they’ll rest on the laurels of this fantastic debut LP.
Band Name: Dead Leaf Echo
Album Name: Faint Violet Whiff
Best Element: New wave catchiness
Genre: New Wave
Label Name: Year of The Gallon Records (No URL available)
Dead Leaf Echo’s Faint Violet Whiff is musically interesting, showcasing many music styles from the past two decades. This EP is well produced and solid instrumentally, but the vocals are just…not good. LG’s range is very limited, so some songs on this album are monotonous and aggravating.
With that said, “Shell of Love” is an excellent track. Think Parachutes-era Coldplay with more of an ‘80s vibe. Again, the vocals aren’t quite first-rate, but they are less jarring here than on some of the other tracks. In fact, the plaintive, atonal wailing that characterizes LG’s vocals throughout this CD works very well here.
“Poison Lips” left me tapping my foot. LG proves his worth here, giving stellar performances on both bass and keyboard. However, what would be new wave at it’s finest is marred on occasion by a spotty vocal performance. I’ll say this in defense of LG’s vocals: when they’re good they’re really good. In spots, he does quite well; if you’ll permit me another Coldplay comparison, there are echoes of Chris Martin to be found on this track.
“Walking Away” is ‘80’s rock at its most fun. In spite of the vocals—I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but yeesh—this song is an entertaining listen if a bit frenetic at times. Alligator Joe shines on drums.
As far as I’m concerned, the vocals do need serious work, but this release is, as I said before, instrumentally solid and well produced. If you think you can deal with the vocals, buy the whole CD. If not, pick up “Shell of Love”—you will be glad you did. Either way, keep an ear open for Dead Leaf Echo; they are still growing as a band.
Band Name: The Detholz!
Album Name: Cast Out Devils
Best Element: Excellent 80s throwback sound
Genre: Rock/New Wave
Label Name: N/A
Band E-mail: email@example.com
With all of the flair of 1980s new wave and funky hooks, The Detholz! bring an entertaining mix of music to the table.
Cast Out Devils opens with “Silence is Golden” – a surreal-sounding track with some words spoken in a ominous voice over a somber, monotonous music track. From there, they crank right into the poppy, hyper “Club Oslo,” with synthesizers and singing instead of spoken word. It alternates throughout these two different vibes, giving the CD an apparent dual personality.
This latest release keeps in tune theme-wise with their last CD (Who Are the Detholz?). Each track has a dream-like sound and lyrics that deal with a science fiction or outer space theme. The Detholz! have carved themselves a niche and are sticking to it.
The Detholz!’s surreal-yet-poppy synthesizer sound is definitely an 80’s throwback. For example, the end of the title track sounds similar to the beginning of “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox (of Eurythmics fame). With all of the pseudo-80s new wave coming out today, it’s entertaining to hear a band that really gets the true new wave style.
All of that said, it cannot be emphasized how truly unique The Detholz! are and how refreshing it is to hear something that is not the same old thing that comes across the review desk every month.
Band: Dylan Gilbert
Album Name: The Artist & The Scientist
Best Element: Variety and Passion
Genre: Indie Rock
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A few months back, when I started doing reviews for Independent Clauses, I received a wonderful 6 song EP titled Oh No, Oh Now I Know by North Carolina’s Dylan Gilbert. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I opened my package of CDs this month and gazed upon Dylan Gilbert’s full length debut, The Artist & The Scientist. I was excited but nervous, for just a few months back I boldly praised the album… Now I had to wonder: could this album live up to the standards that were set on his EP?
Gilbert not only upholds the standards he had set; he surpasses them. This time around the listener is graced with ten new songs of pure song-writing genius. The songs are as creative as they are catchy… and believe me, they are pretty damn catchy. The production is sharper this time around and really allows the musicianship and vocal work to shine. Dylan’s wide-ranging instrumental talents have broadened as he now utilizes about a dozen various instruments, from your standard Guitar-Bass-Drums-Vocals to more eclectic devices like Glockenspiel-Omnichord-Piano/Synth, to name a few.
Like his previous album, every track is diverse and sends the listener through an ever-changing mix of emotional states. The Artist & the Scientist is an album in the truest sense of the word and is best appreciated if listened from beginning to end. However, one cannot help but pay extra attention to a track like “Sail Away,” which is a somber, passionate, and ultimately moving love song that somehow manages to avoid the cliches of ‘LOVE-Rock’ (either that or it has lured me in and turned me into a romantic sap… Let’s hope for both our sakes it is option 1.) The delicate blend of piano, cello (one of the few instruments not handled by Gilbert) and Dylan’s all-too-meaningful voice is just perfect. Other examples of this powerful musical cocktail can be heard on tracks like “On Holiday” and ‘The Letter,” which both feature the beautiful cello of Lindsey Beyer.
Lyrically, I really admire how Dylan seemed to tie in the two closing songs, giving the music an even more intimate feel and leaving the listener with no choice but to hit the repeat button.
There is little more that can be said. Dylan Gilbert is easily one of the finest song-writers that I have come across in recent years. He is a multi-talented musician and his sincere passion can be heard on each and every song. I closed out Dylan Gilbert’s previous review by saying “I don’t see how any open minded, avid music fan could not enjoy this,” which I still firmly stand by. But I will leave a question for the readers…
Why don’t you have this CD yet?
Band Name: E. Deubner
Album Name: Death is a Vacatation Through Time
Best Element: Solid songwriting
Genre: Dark rock
Label Name: N/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
I’m not sure how I first heard of outsider music- but somewhere along the line I became aware that there were musicians who were completely destroying the pop music scheme. Artists like Jandek and Daniel Johnston are two of the most ‘well-known’ of these oddities- prolific musicians who create and release music solely for themselves, with no hope nor ambitions of getting famous.
If E. Deubner continues releasing music at the clip that he has been, he will soon take his place in the canon of outsider music as the out-of-place genius that he shows signs of becoming.
As a cohesive whole, Death is a Vacation Through Time is a great album that easily combines genres as if they didn’t even exist. Whether churning out an industrial backbeat, lightly tapping the keys of a piano, riffing on a heavily distorted guitar or creating eerie, complex soundscapes with myriads of unreleased tension, Deubner shows his songwriting prowess throughout his latest album.
As could be inferred from the title, this album is dark. Heavily distorted guitars of an almost industrial variety and urgent drumming by a well-used drum-machine coexist with mournful guitar melodies, copious varieties of mood-setting keyboards, and clean guitar work to create songs that don’t really fit anyone’s mold of music.
There’s really no place for this album in the pop canon- it’s not something you release on the radio, nor is it music that would be good as soundtrack music (unless you had one really creepy, futuristic, militant movie to score). It strikes me as similar to the classical music I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to- modern composition, to be appreciated as composition.
The theme throughout the work is one of pushing forward, whether it be by the spare but insistent drumbeat in “Waking Up to Chaoticism,” the squalling guitar noises in “Churning Through Motions,” or the nearly out-of-control drum-machine spasms in “I Went to the Edge of the World.” The insistence is backed up by drawn-out tracks that drag the songs backwards, creating a tension that keeps me returning to these songs. The underlying organ drone and plodding lead guitar line in “I Went to the Edge of the World” fight the quick rhythms to pull the song in two directions, while the low noises and guitar melodies in “The Fire of 1818” keep the song from going forward or backward quickly. The finest tracks here are nothing short of brilliant in their scope and execution.
That’s not to say that there aren’t still problems- sung vocals, a problem on E. Deubner’s previous album, continue to be an issue on tracks like “I Went to the Middle of the World,” where the dramatic moaning gets a little too off-key and over-the-top to stomach. While this awful performance is redeemed by the Atari Star-esque “Time is an Animal,” in which Deubner actually carries a good melody and keeps an (almost) solid tone, the difficult vocals elsewhere are still a low point.
E Deubner is like Daniel Johnston- not in sound, but in the unfortunate way that the brilliance of his songs can currently only be appreciated by those who write music themselves. It takes patience to enjoy this album, and it’s not something you put on to casually chill out to, which means it lies in stark contrast to the listening habits of about 99% of the current music-listening population. But it is a shining testament to the fact that modern composition is the way that in-the-know rock bands are going, and it is one (tiny) step closer to letting all those outsider bands into the big game of accepted music.
The Times, They are a Changin’
I feel really validated this month. I took a look at the current editions of Wired and Spin, and both magazines held significant sections on how modern music is slowly starting to embrace the internet and alternate ways of releasing music. Wired featured the remix encouragers Beck and Nettwerk Records, while Spin featured Gnarls Barkley (whose “Crazy” was a product of blog frenzy) and the entire Indian extreme metal scene (which has recently appeared due to increased ability to hear metal and get their metal heard via myspace).
Wired also featured a long article on Pitchfork, an online music magazine sorta like ours (you may have heard of it, eh?) that has so much power in the music world that it can literally get a CD taken out of stores (Travis Morrison’s Travistan).
Even though the realization that people are getting all excited about electronic distribution was exciting to hear, the real excitement was over the Pitchfork article. If there was any doubt in my mind as to who the Rolling Stone of music e-zines is, it’s been cleared up. Pitchfork has been generally accepted.
And as we all know, that’s when things are ready for change. Now I’m not saying that Pitchfork is going down the drain or anything- but for Every Rolling Stone, there’s a Spin. And a Wire. And a Wired (just to confuse you). And a Vibe. And dozens of other magazines.
Now that online magazines are finally starting to receive some credibility as the trend-making, literary establishments that they have the potential to be, people may be warmer to everything that’s related to a zine- getting involved as a writer, advertising, sending press material out, reading religiously.
Right now is a fantastic time to be a music lover. After the stop-gap that was CDs, we’re right on the cusp on seeing a brand new market format take over in the music business- and it’s extremely exciting.
If you’re a lover of music magazines, it’s an even better time to be around. Things are about to get very interesting- just stick around and see what happens. I guarantee that new things are going to impress you. Because the times, they are a’changin’.
Band Name: Ella Rouge
Album Name: Ella Rouge
Best Element: Strong piano, great melodies
Genre: Piano Pop
Label Name: Moby Dick Records
Band E-mail: www.myspace.com/ellarouge
Ella Rouge’s debut fades in with a spacey synthesizer line reminiscent of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which quickly transforms into the mini prog-rock sing-along “That’s Me with the Gun.” As album openers go, they really couldn’t have done much better. Ella Rouge wears its seventies influences on its sleeve. And why not? Lead singer Ludvig Anderson is the son of Benny Anderson, one fourth of Abba, one of the biggest seventies groups of all time.
Ella Rouge revels in the classic piano rock of vintage Billy Joel and Supertramp. They’re at their best delivering songs like “Eldorado High” and “Jekyll N Hyde”; pop-rockers with the kind of indelible melodies that would make them hits in any generation. Similarly, “L.A. Dogs” sounds like Rob Thomas at his funkiest and “Light the Fuses 82’s” is an anthem in waiting. Like their inspirations, Ella Rouge has a softer side as well. Some of these moments work brilliantly (the old fashioned power ballads “Famous Jack” and “Holly Golightly”), while some do nothing more than slow down the band’s momentum (“Manhattan” and “Gender Jaded”).
With limp bands like Five For Fighting and The Fray currently locking up the radio, Ella Rouge should take their place as the rightful superior in this trend of piano rock. While the album isn’t perfect (a different -and tad shorter- running order would take care of that), it does herald the arrival of a band with limitless potential, a band who realizes the importance of classic pop melody. And, in these times of blippy catchphrase songwriting, sometimes that’s all it takes. B+
- Nick James
Band Name: Ezra Reich
Album Name: Milkshake Arcade
Best Element: Excellent vocal performances
Label Name: Common Cloud Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking one look at the cover of Ezra Reich’s new album Milkshake Arcade, it’s clear that the artist is going for a classic pop sound. But while pink milkshakes may immediately conjure up the thought of sixties soda fountains, the album itself is concerned with a later generation’s pop nostalgia: late-seventies new wave.
Much of Milkshake Arcade sounds like David Bowie in his Thin White Duke period covering tunes from the Cars. It’s a winning formula, with songs like the opener “Supergirl (My Daughter)” and “The Answer” floating along effortlessly on breathy come-ons and stabbing pop/funk guitar. Tracks like these and the delicious doo-wop of “Walking in Circles” put most of today’s ubiquitous second-generation new wave acts to shame. Not everything works so well (“Got 2 Me” and “On and On” succumb to their clever sounds and forget to present a worthy melody), but the majority of the album is strong. Not only that, but it feels very authentic. Step back in time twenty-five years and these songs would fit in just fine. “Inside the Box” and “I Need a Moment Alone” in particular sound like long lost classics.
Much of the credit goes to Reich’s vocal performance: a mix of classic rock attitude and throaty cabaret. Even when the songs don’t quite measure up, Reich is always captivating. The same can certainly be said for Milkshake Arcade. It takes a revivalist trend that’s so completely dominant at this point in history and stretches it until it sounds like nothing else out there right now. B