Band Name: Lil’ Chris
Album Name: S/t
Best Element: Energy and hooks
Genre: New-wave rock
Label Name: RCA
Band E-mail: n/a
If I were to tell you that the best new wave power rock record of the year belonged to a sixteen year old kid named Lil’ Chris, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But it could very well be true. Lil’ Chris (born Chris Hardman, a veteran of Gene Simmons’ reality show Rock School) has created the only teenage pop/rock record worth listening to in a good long while.
If this was a different situation (if Chris didn’t look like he was 12 and sing like he was 10) we’d be in Franz Ferdinand territory… only better. Any new wave revivalist would be lucky to have tracks as brilliantly catchy as “Gettin’ Enough” and “Is She Ready?” in their catalog. In fact, the whole of the album is one giant hook propelled with enough youthful energy to nearly set it alight. Blistering cuts like first single “Checkin’ It Out” and Rock School-featured “Is There Anybody Out There?” retain both their f*ck-you attitude and accessibility, while beautifully understated electro ballad “I Never Noticed” becomes a sort of modern “Ben” moment for Chris.
The record is short and punchy, much like the artist, and that keeps things going at a perfect pace. Chris’s rock and roll posturing is continually fascinating and, while most likely annoying to some, is the real reason the album works so well. It sounds like the work of a teenager. Most every song is about girls or sex or (in most cases) a combination of both. None of this, of course, would be anything special if the songs weren’t so great. Bucking the usual teenage trend, Chris co-writes all his material and, judging from the results, he should. Lesson learned: the kids are alright, and I really should have dropped my preconceptions and checked this guy out sooner. A-
Key Tracks: “Gettin’ Enough,” “I Never Noticed,” “Is She Ready?”
Band Name: Kingsbury
Album Name: The Great Compromise, Full-Length Album.
Best Element: The struggle of deep themes, and their artful interpretation through words and music.
Website: http://www.myspace.com/kingsbury, http://www.kingsburymusic.net.
Label Name: http://www.postrecords.com. Post Records.
There is no way one can simply listen to Kingsbury’s latest release The Great Compromise. One must wrestle with it; swim, gasping, through the waves of its emotional ocean; and, if lucky, crawl up onto dry land again…
…Or maybe it would be better to drown in its embrace. The Great Compromise is Kingsbury’s debut full-length album, and after listening repeatedly, I was taken aback. Their sound is altogether too mature and crafted for this to be a first full-length record; however, considering that they spent more than a year’s time hashing out, recording, and finishing this album, one can begin to believe Kingsbury was able to create such a work.
This album deserves more than a cursory listen and five hundred words.
Musically, Kingsbury’s The Great Compromise straddles the darker side of indie-rock, infuses the enervated American psychedelic movement with fresh life and dabbles in both classic rock and classical accompaniment. Bruce Reed seems intent on constructing each song spatially, as though he wants listeners to walk through them, inevitably emerging not completely certain of his or her surroundings.
“The Corpse”—the album’s first track—drifts into existence as a dirge: the weeping of violins followed by an orchestral drum section and a light, martial snare. The subject matter is fittingly matched to the tones, as the lyrics open by describing a room where “the power is out, the power is out,” and we are confronted with a deteriorating corpse on the couch. And when it seems nearly too much, a simple piano melody counteracts the death-march, as Bruce Reed’s minimalist, more-air-than-words voice offers an interlude of hope: “All I ever wanted was to help while you were lost. / My brother take the help when it’s offered next time you’re lost.”
The song ends on a major chord, snatching hope from the overwhelming musical and lyrical bleakness. It is from the artful struggle between these themes of hope and loss, decay and light that Kingsbury swirls up tunes from a seemingly measureless emotional abyss.
The album’s title track begins as a stripped-down acoustic stroll, builds as panned guitars climb out of and descend again into the mix. A hesitant keyboard melody accompanies the chorus duet of Reed and Alexis Hamlin-Vogler as they sing: “And if I will dance, will you swallow me, consume my soul? / If I smile will you torture me, turn my body cold? Oh no.”
It is this sort of tension that allows the individual songs to take shape and project space; a thoroughly post-modern art concept applied to a medium (indie-rock, in particular) not completely comfortable with its infringement.
Who is to say comfort is always a good thing?
Hope and despair, uncertainty and devotion, child-like trust and brutality… Kingsbury is one of the few bands out there willing to tread water in such seas. Fortunately, this album sails through unscathed—if not stronger—from the voyage.
Band Name: Just Jack
Album Name: Overtones
Best Element: Three stellar tunes
Label Name: Universal
Band E-mail: N/a
You have likely heard (or soon will) the first single from this new Just Jack record. “Starz in Their Eyes,” from its building drum line to its disco-funk guitars, is closer to hip-hop nirvana than any artist has achieved for a few years now. It will be a massive hit. There are also at least two other guaranteed smashes on the record (that’d be opener “Writer’s Block” and down tempo “Disco Friends”). So, how about the rest of the album? Well, take a cue from the artist’s chosen moniker and it’ll give you a hint.
Other than its few inspired moments, much of Overtones is just Jack. And, quite frankly, he’s just not interesting enough to fill in the filler. Lyrically, he can’t touch The Streets or Eminem. He’s better than a rapping Robbie Williams, but really who isn’t? When Jack doesn’t have the tunes to back up his rhymes, the record falters and ends up being all too forgettable. There are the bright spots, of course. “I Talk Too Much” is a welcome dance cut, and the stabbing string accompaniment and sing-song rhymes of “No Time” are catchy enough. Still, unremarkable tracks like “Lost” and “Symphony of Sirens” are simply too repetitive and dull to care much about.
Just Jack has a unique sound and can certainly carry a tune better than most MCs, yet he is more often than not let down by his hooks. A trio of cuts bolsters the beginning of Overtones, and “Starz in Their Eyes” alone has enough power to work listeners into a frenzy, but that track’s energy is in short supply throughout the rest of the album. C+
Key Tracks: Starz In Their Eyes, Writer’s Block, Disco Friends
My Personal Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2006:
1. Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2. Arsis – United in Regret
3. Akerecocke – Words that go Unspoken, Deeds that go Undone
4. Into Eternity – The Scattering of Ashes
5. The Haunted – The Dead Eye
6. Burst – Origo
7. (Tie) Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain // Isis – In Absence of
8. Murder by Death – In Bocca al Lupo
9. Lamb of God – Sacrament
10. Enslaved – Ruun
My Independent Clauses Top 5 Favorite Reviewed Albums of 2006:
1. Storm the Castle! – The Free of CHARGE Demo
2. Triclops! – Cafeteria Brutalia
3. Dylan Gilbert – The Artist & The Scientist
4. Dylan Gilbert – Oh No, Oh Now I Know
5. New Grenada – Modern Problems
Band Name: Human Aftertaste
Album Name: Eat Our Meat
Best Element: Uniqueness
Label Name: Octopoid Productions
Band Email: email@example.com
There are two types of people in the world. The first view the world as an inherently good place, filled with many great things and opportunities for mankind. The members of Human Aftertaste seems to take joy in not being those people on their latest full length album. Boldly proclaiming “Eat Our Meat!” right on the cover of their effort, the band ensnares its listeners and puts them through twelve tracks of grueling, dirty, nightmarish tunes sure to leave victims dumbfounded.
Sounds from the depths of a human factory permeate the air as “Tick Tock Man” comes to life. It’s obvious right away that, whether intentionally or not, Human Aftertaste has developed a sound previously mastered and toyed with by such greats as Trent Reznor, Mushroomhead, Fear Factory and Marilyn Manson. The rub-off of industrial effects is clear, yet Aftertaste is still able to make their songs unique.
After the ominous ticking of their first track, “Taboo You” hooks listeners with a toe-tapping beat. A sultry, seductive female’s voice lures the song into a grimy collaboration of muffled and whiny vocals, random audio and static bursts in the background and several eerie melodies. “In That We Trust” sparks to life the more rockin’ side of Aftertaste. The song strays slightly from their original industrial/techno sound and puts more emphasis on blasting guitars and powerful background vocals. KMFDM would be pleased.
“Room 418″ is an attention-grabber with its dissonant harmonies, mellow vocals, and ability to take its listeners away. The sway dissolves into a dark pre-chorus that almost turns the song into a bad dream with many haunting voices closing out the tune.
The album carries over several more tunes including the goth’s wet dream that is “Drone” and a song known as “Scream Within a Scream” that could have easily made the soundtrack of the old-school video game Twisted Metal.
“Diamond Studded Halo” is one of the more interesting tunes on the album. Featuring creepy background music and odd vocal harmony in the chorus, it gives off a “let’s pass the blunt and think about life” feel. Perhaps one of the best songs on the album, however, is “New Blood.” The song starts off with a foreboding intro before turning into an upscale rock session. Dynamic diversity leads to a grooving interlude that is, arguably, the best strain of music on the CD.
Human Aftertaste has a lot of things going on in their album. Whether it’s multiple vocal tracks, musical effects, or multiple instruments, there is never a moment of silence. Sometimes this works out for them, but a lot of times there is almost too much for one’s ear to digest. Many of the song structures end up being repetitive and in some songs the vocal melody is almost too familiar. Aftertaste’s album reflects decently enough that attempting to follow in the footsteps of industrial and goth legends is no easy task.
If you’re a fan of the aforementioned big names (Reznor, KMFDM, Manson) and pissed off at life, chances are you’ll take a liking to the Human Aftertaste. Be prepared, however, for a long haul. Despite some good things going on, Aftertaste has too much of the same good things going on. Hopefully in their next album they’ll change things up a bit.
Subjectivity and Experience
What I think is most amusing about this whole “music critic” endeavor is the fact that it’s entirely, completely, absolutely 100% subjective. You may say that there are some things that are sacred (the majority of music critics will agree that the The Rolling Stones, The Who, and David Bowie were pretty influential), but for every majority there’s a minority that says those bands were overrated hacks who got lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
I have proof of this, too – there’s an amazing artsy post-hardcore/indie-rock band named SleepBellumSonno whom Scott and I really, really like. In fact, of all the bands we’ve had come through Independent Clauses, I think that SBS has one of the best shots of making it in their scene.
The reason I single them out as an example of subjectivity is that originally I accidentally gave their CD to a reviewer who has little experience with and generally just doesn’t like hardcore. Subsequently, he didn’t like the album. Didn’t hate it, but he said it was just okay. Now, the music wasn’t any different when reviewer A listened to them and when Scott and I listened to them – we all listened to the same copy of the CD. It’s purely the ears which heard it that made the judgment on the amount of talent (or lack thereof) encompassed in the band’s recording. It’s all subjective – because if reviewer A had worked for a different ‘zine, that negative review would have been posted, instead of the shining one we eventually (and rightfully) gave it.
The only way to beat subjectivity in reviewing is to have a deep background in the field you’re covering. We do our best at Independent Clauses to find people with a deep background in at least one genre so that they can churn out seriously informed reviews on their genre of choice.
This is, in part, why we have so many reviewers here at Independent Clauses – we send people stuff they know about so that you can have the most informed review possible. All of our reviews are knowledgeable, and we pride ourselves on that. So rest assured – if we put out a good review in a genre you like, you’ll like that CD. Because someone who listens to a lot of that genre is praising that CD – not some guy with a little experience in a lot of genres. This is even more important for mediocre to bad CDs. We’re not just saying it’s bad ‘cause we’re ignorant of the genre – if something is average we say it because we can suggest better bands to you.
Now it doesn’t always work out that way (read my review of Denelian for a rare time where I was hit with something I didn’t expect), but a good 95% of the time, we know our stuff when we sit down to do a review. And I’m proud of that.
Just thought you’d like to know.
1. Fall of Transition – Distractions (Evolution Music/EVO Records)
– By and far, this is the best album I have picked up this year. Its release was fraught with delays – it was originally slated to come out in early July, but wound up being released in late September. To say it was worth the wait is an understatement. These North Carolina indie rockers, in their first full length release, have proven that they have what it takes to go the distance.
2. Gym Class Heroes – As Cruel As School Children (Fueled by Ramen Records)
– Normally, hip hop is not my genre of choice. In June of this year I downloaded the Fueled by Ramen summer sampler (featuring other awesome FBR artists, such as Punchline, The Academy Is, Forgive Durden and This Providence). The Gym Class Heroes song “The Queen and I” was included and I was intrigued. I only got the full CD at Christmas and cannot stop listening – it is incredibly infectious, with songs ranging in subject from the serious (the trials and tribulations of making it in the music business) to the hilarious (a montage of spoken tracks about getting sloppy drunk and falling in love at a bar).
3. Rory – We’re Up to No Good, We’re Up to No Good (111 Records)
– Rory is from my hometown, so there is a bit of familiarity here. That aside, this is a really great album, and a great follow up to their 2005 EP (Always Right As In We Are). There are some contagious hooks and cleverly written songs on this CD, but also fantastic musicianship which makes this just an all around great release. These guys put on a great show as well, so if they come to your town, check them out.
4. Red Jumpsuit Apparatus – Don’t You Fake It (Virgin Records)
– Another band from my home state (though a few hours north of my hometown) that has recently signed to a major label and has made it onto the charts with the song “Face Down”. They are a group of young musicians with fresh talent and a knack for witty, smart writing, and they given melodic punk, a genre that was slowly getting stale, a new lease on life.
5. This is Indie Rock Vol. 3 (Deep Elm Records)
– Deep Elm Records should just be given an award for all that they do for independent music. This is the newest installment of the This Is Indie Rock compilation series, which took over after the end of the Emo Diaries compilation series. It is a fantastic collection of independent music, including bands previously reviewed by the IC (for example, Reed KD’s song “Seventeen” is track 12). I think this series is going to be a great way to get a quick taste of what’s out there and what’s worth listening to.
Allison’s Top Albums of 2006
1. MewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
You know how you always get asked what one CD would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island somewhere? This is the CD you would want to take along. Musical and lyrical perfection.
2. Brand New – The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me
All I can say is that Jesse Lacey’s done it again.
3. Fear Before the March of Flames – The Always Open Mouth
Progression, progression, progression. Because we all know that location isn’t really relevant in the music industry.
4. Murder by Death – In Bocca al Lupo
If Johnny Cash would have sung Hungarian folk music, this is what he would have sounded like. It’s really a lot better than I make it sound, I promise
5. Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Beautiful, and actually socially relevant at times. This release captures the beauty of Beneath Medicine Tree and the catchy melodies of In Motion.
6. Showbread – Age of Reptiles
THEY HAVE A KEYTARIST! Oh, and make some pretty snazzy music that never gets old. I mean really, they have a song dedicated to George Romero.
7. From a Second Story Window – Delenda
I predict that these guys are going to be major players in the whole metalcore scene…if they aren’t already.
8. Converge – No Heroes
One word: brutal.
9. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
This album is just appealing to your ears in that pretty, inspirational sort of way.
10. Anathallo – Floating World
Watch out for this band; they’re going to take the indie world by storm. This album is one of the most eclectic and unique I’ve heard in awhile.
10. The Blood Brothers – Young Machetes
If you are a fan of Burn, Piano Island, Burn, you will like this album more than Crimes. If you are a fan of Crimes…you will like this album too. If you have never listened to this catchy high energy spazcore band…what are you waiting for?
…no one noticed I had two number 10s, right? That’s what I thought.
Heavy Heavy Low Low – Everything’s Watched, Everyone’s Watching
Snow Patrol – Eyes Open
The Dear Hunter – Act I: The Lake South, The River North
Saosin – Saosin
– Allison Frank
Band Name: The Ackleys
Album Name: Forget Forget, Derive Derive
Best Element: All around superb musicianship
Label Name: House of Love Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once in a while a band comes together and something special happens. There’s chemistry among the musicians, as their individual talents and ingenuity come together. When they play, the result is pure magic.
The Ackleys are one such band. Their music is remarkably catchy, but not in the bubblegum pop sense. It’s not a forced kind of catchy, either; it’s the passion and energy infused into each track that hooks you in.
Before continuing further, it is worthy to mention that the members of this band are all young – ranging from seniors in high school to college freshmen. As young as they are, they have accomplished what other, often more experienced artists in this genre struggle for: music that is real, heartfelt, sophisticated, and enjoyable.
Catchiness aside, their musicianship is really tight. Singer Katie Crutchfield’s vocals are quite impressive – gritty like Courtney Love, but soulful like Norah Jones. Hers is also a very mature voice, as it sounds like she has had years of training and experience.
Musically, Forget Forget, Derive Derive just works. The Ackleys have a smooth, flowing, cleverly crafted sound that is not too much punk rock, but not too much indie rock either. It’s a little bit Rilo Kiley, a little bit Weezer, a little bit grunge rock, and a little bit of just the cunning cleverness of The Ackleys themselves. The synthesized keyboards are a really nice touch as well.
And, oh my God, the song writing….it is stunning, remarkable, insightful and relatable. Forget Forget, Derive Derive is a Crutchfield-penned series of stories that I feel like I’m a part of. Through her words, I can see inside her head and really understand the feeling she is trying to communicate. And she does all of this without being verbose or cliché.
The Ackleys are a band that gets it right. This is a band that, simply put, deserves to go places. They deserve a handsome reward for all of their creativity and ingenuity, because what they are doing is exactly what this genre needs right now. The Ackleys are putting a fresh twist on a bit of nostalgia: making the old complementing the new, but doing it the right way, with solid musicianship.
Band Name: Aaron Thomas
Album Name all the things i forget (sic)
Best element witty, honest lyrics guitar playing
Genre: folk, ambient
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
I love folk music, but when I think of folk I think of the lyrical if not melodious emotional honesty of Bob Dylan, the brilliant folk/rock of Simon and Garfunkel, the sharp social commentary of Woody Guthrie and the airy melodies of Joan Baez. Because I love folk, it can be difficult for me to review folk music. I’ve heard great folk and it’s easy for me to demand more of folk artists than I should.
With that said, Aaron Thomas’ all the things i forget EP is a solid release filled with witty wordplay, skillful guitar playing and the raw emotion that makes folk music timeless.
all the things i forget begins well. The first cut (the song names are not mentioned) is a song about lost love in the tradition of “Girl from the North Country.” I’d like to pause or a moment to applaud good writing in this track about “lovers consumed by our own spark,” as it is rife with the hammer-ons, pull-offs and string bends that characterize good folk guitar. Thomas delivers vocally as well; this release is not marred by the throaty, unintelligible vocals that makes some folk music an acquired taste.
Track three is a sad, mellow song about love. I can see that smirk on your face, reader: a sad folk song about love—what a concept. Though love is a common theme in folk songs, Thomas’s clever lyrics make this plaintive plea “to walk with me towards the sunrise” worth the listen. Also worth note is the twist at the end—you’ll know it when you hear it.
Track four is one of those rare songs that manages to be sad without sounding whiny or particularly sad. Thomas’ complex, interesting guitar-playing and songwriting skills are both put to good use. Phrases like “time can only heal when the hands of the healer are involved” make this song hard to forget.
In short, if you’re looking for a good, accessible introduction to folk music all the things i forget is for you. If you’re a folk fan like I am all the things i forget is for you. If you have ears, all the things i forget is for you.