The Seldon Plan- The Collective Now
Magnatune Records (www.magnatune.com)
Indie-pop that will move your hips to the jig and bring you back to the good ol’ days of when whining was an acceptable way of expression.
The Seldon Plan’s new CD, The Collective Now, leaves one with a feeling of disappointment. With a band that could progress farther, it is saddening to feel no sign of this in the 11 tracks of their sophomore effort.
I could predict exactly how the songs would change because there seems to be a formula to creating cute, dance indie-pop, and if anything the band excels in making a record of just that.
“Dance, Despite the Obvious” has a ringing of Death Cab for Cutie behind it, like it was the offspring of Transatlaticism. The songs range from giddy pop tunes to serious guitar trances and whispered singing. I even had to turn the volume up to hear what this guy was sad about, poor thing.
Although the songs like “Seraphim” pick up the tempo, they are feet from impressing because of immaturity in the style. Any band can bust out a doo-wop, but are they remembered ten, or even five years after? Not likely.
When a band releases their sophomore album one expects a certain standard. The band either becomes too commercial or wows their fans with something amazing.
Not Lame, a publication, said “The Seldon Plan employs the kind of pop-rock that all the indie kids are craving”. Exactly to the point. The Seldon Plan’s music is for those who still have that spark of innocence that youth gives. Unfortunately, they could benefit from maturing themselves. In “Saint Barbaras” they claim “we’re stuck here in the suburbs”. Maybe the band should travel outside of their comfort zone and take in the experience of moving forward, not running in place.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope. The last track, “Oella”, strikes me as something that could distinguish The Seldon Plan from all the other indie rockers. Even though it was just a jam, it could later be a song that evolves the band.
Yes, the Seldon Plan has charisma and spunk. Unfortunately, as of the moment, their style isn’t unique enough to push them very far forward. But don’t put this band in the back of your mind just yet; they could be underestimated.
Runny – Talent Kills Music Dead
Brutal, chaotic punk rock with lyrics that will shock your mother
Warning: The following is a musical litmus test designed to determine your capacity to become very, very offended.
If the lyrics “I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding…I’m bleeding out of my f*cking vagina!” make you want to turn and run or stop and give the singer a serious talking-to concerning what’s appropriate for proper young ladies to discuss, you might not like Talent Kills Music Dead, the newest album from New York-based Runny. In fact, you most definitely will not like it. You’ll probably hate it a lot, but then, this record was probably not designed with you in mind.
The sounds offered up by Runny are brutal, teeming with raw edges and without much to offer in the way of aural pleasure. This seems, however, to be exactly what members DJ Phlegm and Lemon Cookie were aiming for when they concocted the cacophonous 23 ½ minutes that is Talent Kills Music Dead.
Some tracks, like “When Judy Hates Her Crack,” are humorous and easy enough to listen to. Others, like “Sucking on the Wrong Dick” and “I’m F*cking Dumb,” simply showcase the band’s ability to produce grating howls and screeches.
The sound mellows out a bit on “Turkey Baster Cocaine Enema,” which is produced with the help of Jordan Lieb. Don’t worry: the laid-back tempo takes away none of the crude, offensive punch.
Fans of the unrefined punk rock stylings of Butt Trumpet will likely appreciate Runny’s sometimes-clever, sometimes-silly, always-crass lyrics, as well as their almost complete lack of musicianship.
You know who you are. You represent a small and highly-specialized niche. If you’re not sure, or the results of your litmus test were inconclusive, sample their sound at www.myspace.com/runny.
Rob Poppy – Box of Laughs
BMI – (www.bmi.com)
Happy-go-lucky pop offerings that will put a goofy grin on your ugly mug
I first listened to Box of Laughs, the new album from Norman, Oklahoma’s Rob Poppy, while cleaning my room, attempting to get an initial feel for the unfamiliar musician while simultaneously doing something both productive and long overdue. You know how it is, living the crazed and hectic life of a college student. We have to get good at multitasking.
The next day, while I was at work, I caught myself humming the tracks I’d heard in the back of my mind while trying to sort through three loads of laundry and vacuum my once-cream-colored carpet for the first time in months. Such is the catchiness of Box of Laughs.
Later, I listened to the album several more times, giving it a thorough inspection. I am, in fact, listening to it as I write this, bobbing my head back and forth and feeling generally better about life for it, I think.
The first track, an instrumental entitled “Exit Stage Right,” begins with a chipper guitar line, followed closely by some rollicking, bluegrass fiddle. Then the harmonica makes an entrance, rocking hard and reminding you of just why Blues Traveler was so badass. Just when you think it can’t get any better, swanky ska horns leap in and you feel an irresistible urge to jump up and start dancing with all your limbs shaking. You look like an idiot, but that’s okay.
Other standout tunes include “Schizo Love,” with its distinctive bluegrass flavor, the bouncy “Moral Standard Classy Couth,” and “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” an ode to one of the longest words in the English language. Look it up.
“Dark Strangers Lament” is another quirky tune, sounding vaguely like a grinning, mysterious tango.
On the more light-hearted tracks, Rob Poppy’s voice is reminiscent of Jonathan Richman’s. Some of Poppy’s lyrics also have the whimsical flavor Richman tended toward, post-Modern Lovers. On the more serious tracks, his voice sounds a bit like the bleating style of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.
Besides Poppy on guitar, bass, vocals, melodica and Theremin, Box of Laughs features Travis Wackerly on fiddle and mandolin, Adam Rittenberry on cross harps, Toby Kraft on trombone and Rob Martin on drums. The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Trent Bell of Norman’s Bell Labs.
Ringer T – Around the Bend EP
Gritty Americana that delves deeply into sadness without going overboard into cheap theatrics and wasted songs.
I hate it when artists beat sadness to death. There is power in an admission of complete brokenness, but a whole album about the subject inevitably comes off as laughably maudlin and inexcusably mopey. I can empathize with one or two concise, honest and well-written songs of breathtaking sadness; I cannot get into full-on moping. There’s just no dignity in a breakup album that smears misery across a large canvas.
It’s the songs surrounding a centerpiece that make the sadness of a piece so gut-wrenchingly relatable. On Spiritualized’s massive breakup album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, hopeful songs like “Electricity” are what make “Broken Heart” so disarmingly disheartening. It’s the exuberant “This Year” and the confrontational “Lion’s Teeth” that make The Mountain Goats’ “Pale Green Things” the intense and draining closer that it is on The Sunset Tree. It’s not in spreading the sadness out that brilliance is created – it’s in distilling that into several brilliant takes.
Ringer T understands this concept – and that’s why Around the Bend is the emotional powerhouse that it is. The EP begins with the emotionally tortured rocker “Cut the Cords,” which shows Grant Geertsma and co. flipping from brooding anger to unhinged vulnerability and back several times. The command of the mood is impressive, as Ringer T manages to make the mood transitions seamless. It’s surprisingly dark for Ringer T fare, but it works perfectly. It sets up the general feel of melancholy without shoving it in the listener’s face.
Once a rickety and uncertain yelp, Geertsma’s voice has grown into a confident, evocative and easily recognizable tenor, and “Where I Long to Go” showcases it. In a well-written upbeat song that incorporates slide guitar, Ringer T’s trademark acoustic guitar jangle and handclaps to augment a shuffling drumbeat, Geertsma doesn’t hide behind the quality of the songwriting. He instead speaks up and sings with confidence in a catchy song that is sure to become a Ringer T standard, if it isn’t already.
It’s now, after two upbeat tunes, that Ringer T drops the bomb. The title track starts with the distant sound of children playing, slowly covered by a lone electric guitar and Geertsma’s hollow, reverb-laden vocals. The song continues in this vein until the knock-out punch arrives: mournful violin, tastefully and sparingly used. The emptiness and despair laden in this tune are simply astounding.
The sadness of that song is matched by “Let Each Other Free,” which incorporates the full band and the rich sound of a euphonium. It’s sad in a different sort of way – as opposed to the crushing sadness that was “Around the Bend,” “Let Each Other Free” is a noble, resigned sort of sadness.
They pack up the set with “Feel My Pain,” which flirts with lyrical cliches but is saved by solid performances by the band, and the instrumental piano track “Flower of Life.” They aren’t happy tracks, but neither aspires to be as moving or as monumental as “Around the Bend.” “Flower of Life” is especially unique, as it isn’t just your regular piano outro – it’s pretty solid compositionally.
Ringer T’s gritty Americana has always been emotionally honest without getting maudlin. Around the Bend has proven that they can delve deeply into sadness without going overboard into cheap theatrics and wasted songs. This EP is a downer – no way around it. But if you want some sad music that’s done right, this is what you want to get. The songwriting is incredible, the performances are memorable, and the moods are believable. This EP is definitely one of my favorite releases of the year.
Raintime – Flies & Lies
Bieler Bros. Records (bielerbros.com)
Raintime evokes confusion with latest album, but brings home heavy metal in the end.
Raintime is a very strange band. In one sense, they are a hard-core metal band ready to annihilate with mean guitar solos and head banging fury. On the other hand, they are a bit cheese-ball.
After listening to the first song on the album entitled “Flies & Lies,” there is definitely something left to be desired, but after that, Raintime continues to impress with further tracks on the album. This album floats somewhere in between heavy metal and something more progressive and technical. Guitarists Luca Michael Martina and Matteo Di Bon do not fail to make an impression with their skills.
The album begins to get intense with the song “Rainbringer,” which evokes true heavy metal. This song is heavy on the growling/screaming, and it is not sung in vain. It is clearly one of the best tracks on the album.
Flies & Lies takes a rather sappy turn for the worse with “Finally Me,” a song reminiscent of an eighties hair band ballad. This song threw me for a loop in comparison with the rest of the album. Some parts of the song, including the intro, seem to be fused with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” seeing as it sounds like a little pipe organ being played. It’s not very metal, but at least intriguing nonetheless.
Raintime makes me question their metal roots once more, with a metaled-out cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Is this a rock band or an eighties cover band in disguise? I didn’t like the consistent confusion I for some reason felt while listening to the entire album.
For all that is shaky about Flies & Lies, they go out with a kick-ass bang on the final track, entitled “Matrioska.” Singer Claudio Coassin’s vocals are crisp and edgy, and then shift to growling and hardcore, making for a delicious blend that finally fulfills what the listener is looking for.
For all the confusion and dislike that struck me during listening to this album, I will say that it is definitely worth a listen regardless. Purely because I did not get bored, and was anxious to hear what different element the next song on the album would bring. Every member of Raintime is talented at what they do, which makes for an interesting listen in the least.
The Pet Ghost Project – The Great Satisfactory
Sheer musical creativity and willingness to take risks separates this Indie-experimental rock from the field
If Justin Stivers’ Pet Ghost Project were a band, the ghost portion of its title would have to apply exclusively to his band. That’s because this densely-layered, polyvocal mash of 90’s influenced experimental rock is, quite surprisingly, a solo project. When I first listened to The Great Satisfactory, Stivers’ second full-length album, I imagined a front man with three or four supporting musicians in tow; however, the disc’s instrumentation reads vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and others (which includes shakers, foot-stomping and synthesizers) all accomplished by Stivers. I was impressed. Justin Stivers’ one-member band is limited solely by his recording equipment and technique; what may be lacking fidelity-wise is made up for by the sheer range of influence, risk-taking and creativity.
In terms of sound, The Great Satisfactory draws water from deep musical wells. On [url=http://www.myspace.com/thepetghostproject]his Myspace site[/u], Stivers notes that The Pet Ghost Project draws from Neutral Milk Hotel, Tom Waits and old Modest Mouse. I would include the more mainstream Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Beck in the aquifer. His sound is more lo-fi than the bands I mentioned, but elements of their sound (i.e. Beck’s songwriting and instrumental range, snippets of Nirvana-esque guitar tones and the feel of epic The Pumpkins distilled) all permeate The Great Satisfactory, coloring its tones.
The stylistic range on The Great Satisfactory is surprising. The fuzzed-out, punchy jam “At Least I’m Alive” enters with what sounds like someone de-corking a champagne bottle. It twists and turns through a synthesized sea of muddle, strips to a near-naked acoustic guitar punctuated by a Stivers bellowing a multi-layered “Oh,” splashes a repetitive, raunchy electric guitar tone and finally mutates into a synth-and-electric jam parade. It’s more complex than a rarified French wine, but recorded, I’d wager intentionally, to sound like it was cut in a project studio in some dank Seattle basement. And “At Least I’m Alive” is just one song, buried deep in the album, relegated behind a host of others just as compelling and complex.
Beyond the music’s commendable range, Justin Stivers’ words, oftentimes buried beneath sound mountains, are worth digging out. In “Encore,” his social commentary seethes like a bucketful of hot coals dropped into a December river: “The city devours another tree / that would’ve loved to create food for you and me. / Well we’ve added up all the numbers and stats / in conclusion this all means shit.” The other numbers and stats are embedded in minimalist yet poignant lyrics about the misdeeds and ironies of a doctor, an electrician and a lawyer as they fumble through contradictory lives. The opening song, “Drunk and Smiling at Heaven,” has an epic introduction of catastrophically distorted guitars melting into an on-off synth, which is finally curtailed by acoustic guitar. Stivers’ darkly sardonic lyrics amount to a calculated two-sentences, walloping you in the gut: “The cows are filing in one by one over graves, getting drunk off decay / I’d join them but I’ve never been that good at smiling.”
I cannot neglect to mention the out-and-out D.I.Y. feel of The Pet Ghost Project. No expenses were wasted in the creation of The Great Satisfactory, and while this may turn some listeners off, it strikes a true chord in me. The fact that a so complex and far-reaching album would be wrapped in a simple cover speaks volumes to Stivers’ confidence in the pure content of his sophomore album. That confidence is warranted.
-Timothy C. Avery
Palaris- The Pros and Cons of Redemption
Blue Duck Records (www.blueduckrecords.com)
Catchy, up-tempo pop wrapped in a rock package
This debut from the Connecticut pop-rock band Palaris shows they are quite serious about delivering catchiness. With irresistible hooks and choruses meshing with energetic, forceful guitar riffs, The Pros and Cons of Redemptions is a very promising first release.
The first track, “Long Walk Home,” sets up the feel for the entire album, with an immediate energy, repeating guitar riffs, and a chorus that really packs a punch. It flows well into the lighter, but equally energetic, “Thinking to Listen,” which showcases lead singer and guitarist Dean Purificato’s voice a little more. Purificato proves here that his harsh, and sometimes slightly nasally, voice also has a higher range that can be very melodic.
“Sandboxes and Sailboats” makes a strong statement with a hard-hitting, attention-grabbing chorus. The Pros and Cons of Redemption really picks up with “Iscariot,” however, which forces listeners to nod along with the beat. The pleading lyrics are delivered earnestly, and a breakdown towards the end of the song builds tension and adds excitement. The drumbeat drives “Iscariot” forward and makes it even more assertive and strong. The pop-oriented “Masquerade” which follows is probably the catchiest on the album. The fun chorus is easy to sing along to, and even includes some hand claps, which are always undeniably appealing.
Following “Masquerade” is the hardest rock song on The Pros and Cons of Redemption, “Ghost,” giving it an interesting and unexpected contrast. Palaris returns to pop-rock, however, with “Blindness for Belief” and “Time to Kiss the Ground.” Then the band branches out with its one acoustic song on the album, “To Cameron, From Taylor.” It is a potentially cute love song, but becomes a bit sappy with the line, “then she asks me, stay with me forever, ‘til our souls touch the sky,” that doesn’t quite match the rest of the album. The harmonies, however, are beautifully executed. With the last track, titled “Life as a Game,” which is inspired by the invisible children of Uganda, Africa, Palaris shows they can be both catchy and solemn. The Pros and Cons of Redemption is, overall, an album that utilizes both pop melody and punchy rock, and it should be interesting to see what Palaris does next.
Orchard Drive – One Year EP
Orchard Drive exudes straight-up, epic rock with a kiss of keys and hopeful lyrics
Do you remember when rock bands could mine a major key, hit and hold a crisp vocal note with panache and wax epic without reiterating every preceding reincarnation of the genre? If you lament that those days are forever behind us, put away your doubts; Orchard Drive, a product of Upstate New York’s rust-and-snow-belt, is rocking the doubt out of people’s ears. Their first release, a polished, neatly packaged three-song EP entitled One Year may be the first step towards restoring arena-rock a-la U2 to the radio waves. For a band that formed in 2005, lost their keyboardist to life commitments, and spent a year reforming their sound around a spare, three-member core, One Year symbolizes more than just three songs pressed on plastic; it represents both their love for rocking as well as their dedication to presenting a hopeful message.
Orchard Drive claims numerous influences, but I would grant that they sound most like a mix between U2, Coldplay, and early Switchfoot. The first track on One Year is pure piano-pop meets epic rock. Nate Cronk’s vocals sound, at times, like a mix between fellow Rochesterarian Mike Zale and Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. I readily picked up these nuances, as One Year’s production is pleasingly more professional than one might expect from a band’s first release.
Let me talk about hope for a moment. When you hear so many songs about depression, drugs, ruined relationships and a messed up world, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear a band like Orchard Drive. When one first hears Nate Cronk ask, in “Here’s To”, “So how do you feel inside?” one might expect an emotionally cathartic spilling of the lead singer’s guts… and that’s what you get. But rather than cynicism, Cronk belts out, “Here’s to tomorrow / I hope there’s another sun. / Here it is rising. / This has only just begun.” I’ve heard many bands sing of hope, and even do so musically. O.D. takes their message seriously, and although it’s tough to put it into words, you know when someone means what he or she is singing. Cronk’s positive words ring true, and that’s hard to come by in today’s music. The album’s closer, “One Year” begins with Cronk breathing “This is the end, this is the end of the beginning… let’s not pretend this is tomorrow, let’s not pretend it came like we fit,” consciously reflecting on the difficult bit of work living is. But rather than pout or rage about it, against the backdrop of doubt, “How can we sing in a fallen land?/How can we sing for them?”, O.D. keeps looking for the goodness in life’s struggle. They conclude that “It’s not the end, it’s a beginning!” That sentiment, in itself, is refreshing.
One cannot simply pigeonhole Orchard Drive as a posi-core niche-filler, though. Some of their lyrics search deeply for meaning in a dark and commercialized world. “Here’s To” gets you pondering, making statements like, “You can look through the glass and ask what’s wrong,” while the driving opener “Still Alive” inquires in a late-song breakdown, “How long will you wait to give in? / Love means giving up everything.” O.D. isn’t all surface, and the depth they bring to their lyrics reflects a serious commitment to a thought-provoking message.
I found Orchard Drive’s mix of hope and reflection on tough experiences and downers is worth hearing. Paired with solid musicianship, an innate sense of catchy yet powerful rock and solid production, it’s hard to not believe Orchard Drive won’t stop at One Year.
-Timothy C. Avery
World Class Tour Guide
It’s 3 a.m., and Matt Jim is clicking away at his computer, periodically swigging from a monstrous mug of Double Dog pale ale. He’s trying to solidify the booking for the latest band tentatively scheduled to play at Studio 360, a recently opened underground music venue in Norman, Oklahoma. Using the website byofl.org, or Book Your Own Fucking Life, Jim connects with like-minded folks from all over the world, hatching elaborate plots to unleash the power of metal on an unsuspecting populace.
Jim, 25, has been shredding bass and spewing vocals for local punk/thrash band Snotrokitz since high school. Back then, Snotrokitz had a hard time getting gigs on the standard Norman circuit, so he took matters into his own hands. He started sniffing around for underground venues, booking shows both for Snotrokitz and for friends’ bands around the OKC/Tulsa area.
“I had a friend named Jesse Buttpaper, who was in Septic Tumor from Tulsa,” Jim said. “He was the one who actually got me into booking out-of-town bands.”
It was Buttpaper who introduced Jim to BYOFL, where he eventually made contact with musicians from Germany, Finland, Japan, and all over the US. These bands all had one thing on common: the desire to promote their music sans big business abetment.
Many of these bands are setting foot on Oklahoma soil for the first time.
“[Bands from the US coasts] usually come to Oklahoma and say ‘Wow, I didn’t know you guys had paved roads here,'” Jim said.
They certainly don’t expect to find anything that even passes for a punk or metal scene. Yet despite being apart of the mainstream consciousness, it’s definitely here.
For years, the bands Jim brought to Norman played in residential dwellings: first in the basement of a friend’s place, and then, when police banned them from playing shows there, in Jim’s garage.
Philadelphia rockers Pony Pants made a stop in Norman during the era of garage shows. Singer Emily J.K. said the band contacted Jim during standard pre-tour Internet recon.
“We do almost all our own booking,” she said, “so we do lots of investigation about what’s going on in different scenes.”
Pony Pants rocked the garage until the noise curfew hit, then partied with Jim and his housemates and friends before settling down on couches and floor pallets, sleepover-style.
Jim is known for his “southern hospitality,” often providing food, a place to crash and the opportunity to scrape off the road funk with a steaming hot shower.
“He made us food, bought us booze, introduced us to people, made sure we had a nice place to sleep – everything a band could want,” said Emily J.K. “We played in a garage and people had fun and danced. Then everyone got drunk and many people got naked… a plus.”
Jim has fond memories of the naked shenanigans, himself.
“We got one of the guitar players to get naked and run around with us and act crazy,” he recalls. “There were, like, 15 naked people in the house, just running around.”
As for the music of Pony Pants, Jim said they were a cross between Iron Maiden and Le Tigre.
When Studio 360 opened its doors, Jim saw it as an opportunity to offer touring bands a more traditional venue. It took a while, though, for Studio 360 to warm up to the idea.
“First they were saying they wanted to cater to more metal bands, and heavier stuff,” Jim recalls.
The owner, Vance, didn’t even want Jim and his bandmates to bring their own music there, much less anyone else’s.
“They just took us as a punk rock band, even though we’re pretty much a hybrid, you know, hardcore, punk, and metal,” Jim said. “Once they actually heard us, they accepted us among their metal peers.”
A good thing for Jim, since noise complaints from neighbors had finally put a stop to the garage business.
It wasn’t long before Vance was letting Jim act as a booking agent. Shows at Studio 360 usually feature multiple bands, as many as five or six.
Often, Snotrokitz will take the stage along with groups Jim has booked. One September show featured Snotrokitz, local band Drunk on Sunday, and Lafayette, Louisiana band Toxikon.
So the next time a crazy looking Finn or a rock star Asian is seen around Norman, be sure to thank Matt Jim for bringing a little piece of the world here.
For information on Studio 360’s upcoming shows, visit www.myspace.com/studio360. Jim can be reached at www.myspace.com/mattymoose.
Lo-Fi is Sci-Fi – We Were Wrong
Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority
I will use beverages to help me out with this. I am a big coffee person. I prefer the fancy vanilla latte verses the average cup of joe, and I don’t drink tea unless there are no other options. This 8-track album is like a cup of tea when I could have a latte. It is not exciting, like tea. There is nothing going on. The music is so relaxed that it bores me, like something I would listen to in order to fall asleep.
The chords are bland with the same progressions, and the lyrics are cliché. Example (from the second track), “The script you wrote is terrible/but I like you anyway.” In addition, there is unnecessary noise before and after tracks, like at the very beginning of the album and the end of “Deep Red.” The only good thing going for this is the nice vocal harmony, but even then, it travels in thirds and fifths, which is no good. Having the same general harmony makes it even more boring.
The guitars are either acoustic or distorted (which needs to not be so intense for whatever genre this is), and sometimes you will find an intermediary. The press pack says, “It’s hard to pin down exactly what these guys are all about.” I could not have said it any better myself. Tea is fine every now and then, but it is not something I would indulge in. This is for those tea drinkers out there; but for me, they were in fact wrong.