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Month: September 2007

Well, Now That You Asked: Who’s the Most Forgotten Band?

Well, Now That You Asked: Who’s the Most Forgotten Band?

Every once and a while when somebody hears that I work for an independent music magazine, they’ll ask me who I think the best band they haven’t heard of is. Of course I go through my usual favorites SleepBellumSonno or The Felix Culpa, but lately I’ve been giving out another name: Hopesfall.

To a lot of people within the scene that seems ridiculous. I’ve been told that they are an established band with a great following. Yet people who know underground post-hardcore still don’t know Hopesfall. Part of that is Trustkill’s fault, as they are one of the feeblest promoting labels in the industry, but part of it is also the fan’s fault. Hopesfall has never been the band to sell-out to the idea of the single and has experienced more line-up changes than the local revolving door punk band, both of which have hurt them. However, each album has been such an experience for the listener that I am really disappointed this band isn’t better known within the indie circles.

Alternative Press commented in their review of Hopesfall’s latest, Magnetic North, “Hopesfall has struck a balance between mainstream and underground.”

While I agree whole-heartedly with this statement, the exact words that are meant to praise Hopesfall describe the damning properties of their existence. Hopesfall has been unable to climb the label-ladder to a more supportive group because of the frequent personnel changes, but has also been successful enough to earn a contract with a label that has forgotten its roots and failed to utilize underground promotion.

Hopesfall has released three albums, all on Trustkill Records. Any of these albums will please the listener. This is one of those bands that deep down I know everyone will like – they just need to be heard.

-Scott Landis

scott@independentclauses.com

Guff-Symphony of Voices

Band Name: Guff

Album Name: Symphony of Voices

Best Element: Aggressive and melodic punk rock that draws on a lot of good influences

Genre: Punk/Rock

Website: http://www.guffmusic.com /

Label Name: Go-Kart Records

Band E-mail: http://www.myspace.com/guff

Somehow Guff is managing to fly under everyone’s collective radar, but with their third album, Symphony of Voices, that will surely change soon. With the album’s excellent title track on this year’s Warped Tour compilation from SideOne Dummy, people will likely notice them soon enough.

The band’s sound is immediately reminiscent of punk bands like Rise Against, but their lyrical and vocal style is much more melodic, with some great use of vocal harmonies.

The band’s musical ability is quite evident throughout the album. The songs are filled with aggressive drums, harmonizing guitar riffs and melodic bass lines. The backup vocal harmonies are spot-on and the frequent use of two lyric sets at once, in a very Brand New fashion, works very well with the music.

Because almost every song on the album follows this general sound, one might say that the lack of variety makes the album feel rather bland. Indeed, it is very easy to lose track of yourself as it progresses. But this doesn’t mean the songs aren’t good…far from it.

I would say any song on this album would be a potential contender as a single, but the stand-outs amongst the thirteen songs are “Saving the World,” “Symphony of Voices,” “Bleed Like You,” “No More Time” and “Rejected.”

Also worth praise are two songs that really don’t fit the same formula as the others.

One is “I Can See It in Your Eyes,” largely due to the fact that it was written by Steve Perry of Journey (the song was recorded by Journey but not released) and even includes Perry on back-up vocals. The song stands out because it’s obvious that Guff put its own touch on the song, giving it an odd mix of punk rock and classic rock. It works extremely well.

The other is the bonus “Just Like It’s Supposed to Be,” a simple acoustic track that will probably be extremely popular amongst fans. It’s a good, if not fairly standard, acoustic punk ballad.

When all is said and done, Guff really puts out an awesome effort in Symphony of Voices. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys Rise Against or loud and aggressive rock music in general.

-Nate Williams

nathanmw@ou.edu

Free Diamonds-By the Sword

Band Name: Free Diamonds

Album Name: By the Sword

Best Element: An unconventional but wonderfully pleasing dance-rock album with loads of groove

Genre: Indie

Website: www.welovefreediamonds.com

Label: Deep Elm Records

By the Sword is a logical, if unexpected, follow-up to Free Diamonds’ debut There Should Be More Dancing. Where the debut was the sound of hyperactive party dancing, By the Sword is the sound of that same party mellowing out as the night goes on. Where There Should Be More Dancing is the adrenaline-fueled euphoria of doing 80 out of town on the beginning of the road trip, the follow-up is the calmer but no less exciting state of enjoying the long drive with friends.

This is not to say that the members of Free Diamonds have abandoned the complicated rhythms, incredible bass riffing and hyperactive chipmunk vocals that are their trademark. In fact, opener “Backpack Escape Plan” starts off with all the makings of a quintessential Free Diamonds song, until a harmonica enters the mix in the chorus. It fits surprisingly well, and aside from the jarring transitions, “Backpack Escape Plan” provides a pretty fit opener.

“Hugs and Kisses” follows, and it more properly establishes the tone of By the Sword. The snare-heavy beat follows the quick bass work, but it’s the acoustic guitar strum and burbling effects pedal that give the song away as definitely not a member of the There Should Be More Dancing canon. If it wasn’t obvious then, the girl lead singer REALLY proves it. But when lead singer Scott Anderson comes in during the chorus chanting “We’re all hugs and kisses/now there’s no hugs and kisses anymore!” it’s as jubilant as anything previously done. In fact, it may be the most infectious song melodically that the Diamonds have ever put together. The laid-back groove opens the door for the more ominous than party-hearty vibe of “Flamingo!” – “Flamingo!” segues nicely back into the vocoder-laden “Cobracabana.” “Midnight Rainbow” lays on the island vibe and actually emphasizes the lyrics (as in, they’re actually understandable for once!). And the album plows on and on, with every song revealing something new about Free Diamonds’ sound.

Not to be missed are the galloping and impassioned “A Herd of Elephants,” the laser-guided precision of “Jealous Panther” and the deceptively great “The Little Keyboard Song.” The album does get less interesting towards the second half, but all is redeemed by closer “My Boxing Days are Over.” In true “you-can’t-tell-us-what-we-can’t-do” Free Diamonds style, it’s a folk song. It’s a pretty great folk song, too. “My Boxing Days…” also clears something up – I’ve never been able to pin any comparisons on the vocal stylings of Scott Anderson, but when he slows down he sounds a tad like Gordon Gano from the Violent Femmes. So now we have it: Free Diamonds is the Violent Femmes, triple-speed. Just kidding.

With By the Sword, the members of Free Diamonds prove that they do not comprise a one-trick pony. And even though this album is definitely calmer than its predecessor, its difference is what makes it succeed. By the Sword doesn’t try to repeat the sugar-rush that was; it gathers the best parts of that sound and adds in new elements. It will make you dance because of the grooves the band creates, and that’s totally awesome. Just as awesome as There Should Be More Dancing. And that makes Free Diamonds really fantastic.

-Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

empire! Empire-when the sea became a giant

Band Name: empire! empire! (i was a lonely estate)

Album Name: when the sea became a giant

Best Element: Guitar-centric, really downer music of heartbreaking passion, catharsis and nostalgia.

Genre: Mellow, artsy emo

Website: www.myspace.com/empireempireiwaslonelyestate

Label: Self-released

In the movie version of High Fidelity, Rob famously conjures “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

I was reminded of this because the intricately named empire! empire! (i was a lonely estate) is one of those bands that I can see putting on when I’m in one of those moods. E!E! is music of heartbreaking passion and catharsis; music that is long on earnestness and short on restraint.

E!E! could be called a lot of different things, but what it’s called is not the point. Ringleader Keith Latinen creates guitar-centric pieces that churn and twinkle their way into a really downer mood. The drums emphasize all the points that the guitars make, but never take control of the sound. The best example is the passionate end of “Lilly, I have something important to tell you,” where the drums could very well go overboard, but don’t. The vocals are of equal but not more importance than the guitars – this is due in part to the fact that the vocals are mixed at nearly the same level as the guitars. Standout track “They will throw us to the wolves” is the best example of this shoegazer-esque mix strategy.

“They will throw us to the wolves” is excellent in more than just mixing – the vocal performance exceeds all others in quality and execution. On tracks such as “You have to believe that life is more than the sum of its parts, kiddo” the vocals are deliberately off-key; it’s deliberately off-key, because in “h.o.h.o. (the most of my worries are the least of your concerns)” the same vocal style is used, but the vocals are on key this time. That, along with the great guitar mood set in “h.o.h.o.”, makes it also a candidate for best song on this EP.

In the end, E!E! is music for a specific mood. I wouldn’t ever just throw this on in my car – this is music for nostalgia, for sadness, for bad days. It’s intricate, it’s talented, it’s beautiful, but it’s very specific. If you’re into this type of thing, you’re going to love it. Otherwise, it’s one to skip.

-Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

Dear Tonight-We’re Not Men

Band Name: Dear Tonight

Album Name: We’re Not Men

Best Element: High quality sound

Genre: Spoken-word post-hardcore

Website: www.deartonight.com

Label: Read Leader Records

Once upon a time a band came along and decided they would do something different. So they produced music that was based around a guy with a gruff voice yelling positive lyrics while a band played repetitive guitar licks behind him. That band was called Mewithoutyou. A few years later, another band came along with the same idea, minus the positive lyrics. That band was called Dear Tonight. And while Dear Tonight was not a bad band, they brought nothing new to the table. *Story Time Ends*

I find nothing wrong with playing the style of music that you like, but when a band produces a carbon copy of another band I get bored. Dear Tonight’s release, titled We’re Not Men is a quality CD. It is energetic, well recorded and well mixed. It just sounds like a dozen other bands I’ve heard in the past year, and unlike many of those bands, Dear Tonight has no stand out item to grab the attention of the listener and make him or her want to keep listening. While I’m sure they would be a great time in concert, their studio release sounds like a continuance on Mewithoutyou’s Brother, Sister. I know a lot of people will love that fact. Check it out if you really like Mewithoutyou and spoken/ yelled lyrics. It’s high quality music, just nothing new. The worst part is that lead singer Ryan, has the same unkempt, bearded look as Aaron Wiess, lead singer of Mewithoutyou.

-Scott Landis

scott@independentclauses.com

Dirty Money-Far From Home EP

Band Name: Dirty Money

Album Name: Far From Home EP

Best Element: Fun-loving sound

Genre: Punk

Website: www.myspace.com/dirtymoneyfl

Label: Thunderstruck Records

I’ve been told that straight, dirty, old-school punk is dead. Hey, I’ve even said it. Dirty Money’s Far from Home EP is a breath of fresh air for a genre that seemed to be on its last cigarette-smoke-infused breath. Dirty Money is the basic, fun punk that Rise Against tried so hard to produce, without the overt social conscience that dragged down every fun-loving riff.

Dirty Money has reproduced not only the sound but also the feeling of carefree old school punk as they hammer along with choruses of “You will never understand” in “Between Bottles.” While the lyrics will never win a Pulitzer, it doesn’t matter because the EP chugs along with driving double guitars and the rare bass solo by bassist and vocalist Ryan.

So it’s not the most complex album of the year, but it may well be the most fun I’ve had listening to music in the past month. You will not be able to get through tracks like “123 Fest” and “Ride Easy” without at least tapping your foot. You might even start a circle pit with your friends. It really is that much fun.

-Scott Landis

scott@independentclauses.com

Cover Your Tracks

Band: V/a

Album: Cover Your Tracks compilation

Best Element: A great introduction to Deep Elm’s roster.

Genre: Punk/Emo/Post-hardcore/Indie-rock

Website: Deep Elm Records

Deep Elm Records’ Cover Your Tracks is a very unique comp. The premise is this: new-school Deep Elm bands cover a song by an old-school Deep Elm band in their own style. There’s two ways to look at it: you can see it as intended (a clever reward to long-time Deep Elm fans) or as its de facto result (a introduction to Deep Elm’s current roster).

Admittedly, I am not a hardcore Deep Elm fan – many of the bands covered here weren’t even on Deep Elm by the time I heard of the label. The few songs I do know go par for the course – I liked Burns Out Bright’s cover of Pop Unknown’s “This Guy’s Ready for Bed,” while I hated Slowride’s life-draining cover of The Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky.” I can’t say much else about that end of the comp.

If you take the CD purely as a Deep Elm comp, it’s really good. There’s a lot of variation of genre and style on this comp, but one thing remains clear: Deep Elm knows passionate music. Whether it’s the lush and dewy-eyed sounds of Surrounded, the Long Island pummeling that is Small Arms Dealer, the frenetic dance-rock of Free Diamonds or the post-hardcore of Fightstar, there’s quality in all of these bands. That’s incredible.

Cover Your Tracks is essentially a hipster in-joke that’s funny even if you don’t get the punch line. I would recommend this comp to anyone interested in underground rock right now. Props to Deep Elm, once again.

Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

Botox Party-Bring In The Suck EP

Band Name: Botox Party

Album Name: Bring In The Suck EP

Best Element: Aggressive DIY punk the way it should be done.

Genre: Punk

Website: http://www.myspace.com/botoxpartyva/

Label Name: Upchuck Recordz

Band E-mail: http://www.myspace.com/botoxpartyva

Short, aggressive and politically charged songs are the name of the game with this EP from Richmond, Va., punk power-trio Botox Party. Featuring six songs and clocking in at a mere 10 minutes and 55 seconds, the band does DIY punk the way it should be done.

Keep in mind, this is a DIY band, and the recordings reflect that. At times it can be difficult to make out the lyrics or individual instruments. However, lower recording quality doesn’t necessarily make the music of an equally low quality. The band displays exceptional songwriting ability to fuse mature and poignant lyrics with a punk rock attitude, a feature that is often lacking in many punk bands.

Opening with the 38-second-long “New Year,” the band delivers some surprisingly upbeat lyrics about making life worth living that contrast with the aggressive nature of the music and the vocals.

Diverging from this optimism is the next song “Problematic Emotions,” which features the same aggressive attitude but has lyrics speaking of frustration and angst. Despite these qualities, it ends on a hopeful note.

“Elitist Social Class” stands out as the best song on the EP due to some great instrumental work from all three band members. The guitar and bass have equal shares of riffing and some incredible drumming takes place. The song itself is a poignant social protest against the type of punk rockers who see themselves as being better punks than others. These elitists are prevalent in many punk scenes and it’s great to see a punk band taking a stab at them with lyrics like “I hate the way that people act/When social outcasts form a social caste.”

The band continues chugging out the fantastic punk songs with “Stealing Childhood” and “The Best of Times,” both featuring more fantastic instrumentation and charged lyrics.

The next stand-out song, and unfortunately the final song on the EP, is “Work and Suffer,” which takes a stab at Social Security and the misfortunes of the working class that are forced to continue working because they can’t afford to retire.

My biggest complaint about this CD is that it’s too short. Also, it’s very unfortunate it doesn’t have better production values. Bring In The Suck EP, ironically, is a rare example of a near-perfect punk release.

-Nate Williams

nathanmw@ou.edu

Avagami-Metagami

Band Name: Avagami

Album Name: Metagami

Best Element: Jarring, discomforting, experimental and truly original synth-pop for the avid

experimental lover

Genre: Experimental

Website: www.avagami.com

Label: Lens Records

I’ve heard a lot of music since I started reviewing almost five years ago, but I have never heard anything remotely like Avagami. I can say without a doubt that Metagami by Avagami is the most jarring, discomforting music I have ever heard. I can also say that of all the bands that have tagged themselves experimental, Avagami is one the select few that tags themselves correctly.

Built of a variety of eclectic synthesizer sounds that range from droning to tinny, very fast (almost break-beat or glitchy) drum patterns and vocals that bore into the brain, these eleven very odd songs defy classification. At their core, these are mid-tempo synth-pop songs – most songs actually have clever arrangements. But something always gets a little bit odd. “Sickly Time” starts out like an old-school platformer video game soundtrack (good) before abandoning the concept for a grandiose, drawn-out groove (in this case, bad). The rapid sequencing intro of “Trombone Solo” is quashed, just as I was beginning to enjoy it. The drum/synth groove of “Luxus” introduces saxophone and harpsichord, while the nifty melodic pattern of “Eagle” is crushed by the vocals.

While the extremely eclectic arrangements are enjoyable after repeated listens, the vocals aren’t even bearable. There’s usually two vocal tracks: a vibrato-laden, faux-operatic baritone track doubled with a tenor who is almost always an octave or so higher. It’s very unusual and it’s a very jarring fit on top of the mostly high-pitched instrumental tracks. The one time it works is in “Unoriginal,” which fits a smooth, bass-heavy track against the vocals. It’s still not a song I would pick to listen to on a whim, but it’s definitely the best track here. The sound they’re trying to nail (synth-based pop with odd vocals that pushes the boundaries of pop music) is nailed.

If Metagami were instrumental, I would have given it a much better review – the clever synth-based arrangements are worth a listen. But when the vocals are added on top, it just becomes difficult to stomach. If you enjoy truly experimental stuff, this is for you – and only you.

– Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

500 Miles to Memphis-Sunshine in a Shot Glass

Band Name: 500 Miles to Memphis

Album Name: Sunshine in a Shot Glass

Best Element: Passionate country and hooky pop-punk married in a near-perfect album

Genre: Pop-punk

Website: www.myspace.com/500milestomemphis

Label: Deep Elm Records

I’m a very discriminating listener of pop-punk. I’m also not a huge fan of country music. Despite these two major hurdles, 500 Miles to Memphis has won my heart with their country-punk amalgam.

There’s no easier place to start in explaining their sound than “Don’t Mislead,” which marries the galloping snare beat native to old-school punk with the plodding up-down bass lines of old-school country. It’s a nearly perfect split between punk and country throughout the song, with a dark country feel to the verses and a pop-punk chord mashing for the chorus. Ryan Malott’s alternately sneering and earnest vocals are the thread that ties the song (and all of 500 Miles to Memphis’ sound) together.

The lyrical themes of the album read like a traditional album – songs about friends, hometowns, lost love, whiskey, going nowhere, wanting to get out, even God. But instead of being depressing, these familiar country themes are charged with a punk attitude of guarded optimism – life may suck, but we’ll still wake up tomorrow to do this again.

Aside from being a fascinating study in ethnomusicology, Sunshine in a Shot Glass is awesome. The music is varied, from straight-ahead chargers (“Fireflies”, “Darlin”), to hoedowns (“All My Friends are Crazy”), to weepers (“Cheers”, “Keep it Together”), to just rock songs (“Broken, Busted, Bloody”). Each song boasts a melody that is hummable and dangerously hooky, whether it be from the vocals, the fiddle, the guitar or the bass. The band works together absolutely perfectly on these songs – never covering up the most important parts, they concede individual glory for the good of the group. With so many things going on in each song, that’s an important thing to learn.

To be honest, I’m not the type of guy who would search out a country-punk band. But Sunshine in a Shot Glass is easily one of my favorite releases of the year. I’ve been humming standout track “The Regret” for about a week solid, and I haven’t even put it in my car yet (that’s where albums become immortalized for me). I honestly can’t think of anything wrong with this album – it’s perfectly paced, superbly written and performed, honest, passionate and fun. Heck, the album art actually enhances the listening experience – and that’s rare. You need this album if you like country or punk – if you don’t like one of the two, even better. I’m convinced that you will love this album anyway.

-Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com