(myspace.com/empireempireiwasalonelyestate)Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – Year of the Rabbit 7-inch
(Myspace.com/countyourluckystarsrecords)Count Your Lucky Stars Records/(http://sncl.collective-zine.co.uk/)Strictly No Capital Letters Records
Melodic, twinkly ‘90s indie-emo that will appease fans of the genre.
Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) plays melodic, twinkly ‘90s indie-emo. This is their second release, with their first full length being released last year. The good news is that they’ve gotten better; the bad news is that if you didn’t like them in the first place, they won’t be winning many converts.
E!E! has done a lot of improving in the span of a year. It’s a band instead of a solo project, and it shows. The sound is tighter, the arrangements are more normal, and the songs have a pulse to them that When the Sea Became a Giant didn’t often have. This sounds like a band, and a very well-practiced band at that. They don’t sacrifice the passion at all, but it’s clear that they have their timings down and their strings tuned. This is a much more refined E!E! They’re not on par with American Football, whom I consider to be the masters of this particular genre, but they’re moving towards that goal.
The dealbreaker for many people will be that E!E! is relentlessly emotional. I mean relentlessly. These songs are born out of emotion, feed on emotion, and breathe because of emotion. These songs are crisp, but the passion of emotions is the primary reason they exist.
The vocals are still the biggest giveaway of this mentality. Lead singer Keith Latinen has a high voice, even when he’s keeping it in the low register of his range on “Year of the Rabbit.” When he gets really worked up, like on “idk, my bff Jill,’ it gets to be yelping. It fits quite well with the music, which is flowing, note-heavy patterns and riffs backed up by pulsing bass and surprisingly snare-heavy drums for such flowing music. But it’s still hard to stomach at first.
Melodic, twinkly ‘90s indie-emo with high vocals and lots of emotion attracts a certain type of person and repulses several other types. The good thing for E!E! is that those who like that sort of thing will gravitate towards Year of the Rabbit. The bad thing is that people who don’t like this know they don’t like it. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) is getting better at their craft and not compromising the sound that they love, for better or worse. For that they should be commended.
This month marks five and a half years since I started Independent Clauses. I started it under a different name, but it’s always been the same organization. Five and a half years is a long, long time. In fact, the only thing in my life that has lasted longer than the magazine is my family.
To drive that point home: Independent Clauses has outlived three girlfriends and one best friend. I’ve lived in three different cities; I’ve been in four separate bands. Our new address in August will be the fourth one for Independent Clauses. I am a drastically different person than I was when I started the magazine. Part of that comes from the natural maturation of five and a half years, while the magazine is directly responsible for part.
The magazine has matured as well. IC started out as a one-man job with erratic postings on a free website (vrcnet.tripod.com). Now it’s a multi-person web magazine. The magazine has had four different designs, and we’re working on the fifth now. We’ve had 30+ staff members. We’ve outlived half the bands that we’ve covered in the magazine.
We’ve gone from zero to an average of 28,000 hits a month. Our biggest month ever had nearly twice that, at 52,000 hits.
I’ve typed the words “Independent Clauses” into my computer so many times that an automatic finisher pops up whenever I type the letters “inde.” Even my computer realizes that I’m obsessed.
We’ve accomplished everything I could think of accomplishing when we started out. It’s been an amazing five and a half years.
And at the end of that five and a half years, I am exhausted. I have worn myself to the bone with school and work and Independent Clauses. It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if shutting IC down would be a good idea. Don’t panic – the magazine isn’t closing. I am addressing the problem, though.
I am taking a three-month hiatus. Once this edition goes up, all e-mail sent to Stephen@independentclauses.com will be read and responded to by Senior Editor Scott Landis. He will be in complete control for the June, July and August editions. I will be taking a long-needed and much-anticipated break from everything work-related.
When I come back in the fall, we’ll address where the magazine is, where it needs to be, and what needs to happen with it. But I need to get into a sane state of mind first.
I thank all of you who read this magazine for the support you’ve given us over the many years we’ve been doing this. Your correspondence is a joy to me. I thank all the wonderful people I have befriended, whether they be on staff, infrequent contributors or just people I’ve run into and cultivated friendships with. My interactions with you have been the sustaining fuel when times got tough.
Finally, thanks also to all the bands that sent us music to review. We wouldn’t exist without you.
The magazine is in a great place as I go on my hiatus – the staff is passionate, the name is ringing more and more bells with people, the bands believe in us, and we’re excited about the future of the magazine. We is the collective we – right now I’m just toast. So thanks again, so very much. Keep reading while I’m gone.
It’s time to go rest.
(www.denelianmusic.com) Denelian – Gossip with the Devil EP
Artsy, interesting dance-punk songs that continue the evolution of a band.
Denelian’s dance-punk songs have evolved from ‘80s mimicry in the band’s early days to blazing, angular vendettas in their last few releases. In Gossip with the Devil, Denelian straddles both worlds and produces some interesting outcomes.
Denelian opts for more synth action this time around, employing them prominently in each of the four tracks on Gossip with the Devil. These songs aren’t as immediately accessible as Denelian’s previous work, as the synth-heaviness takes some time to integrate with the rest of the sound. It’s not that people haven’t used synths in dance-punk before – it’s that the specific tones that Denelian uses have a very soft, whispery tone to them. They aren’t the ferocious, biting tones of Mommy and Daddy or even the piercing, shrill tones of the sadly defunct Mon Frere. These sound more like flutes. I’m not kidding. Check out the middle and end of “A Good Morning for an Ending” to see what I mean.
It’s not that these songs don’t have the oomph that Denelian used to have – the aforementioned “A Good Morning…” has a substantial amount of bass pulsing. “The Paycheck Makes the Man” has thrashy drums and a great forward-moving beat. It’s just that on top of the usual dance-punk missives, there are these odd synths. At first I was determined to hate them, but as I listened to the tracks, I got used to them and even like them in places (“Paycheck…” being one of those places).
Synth use isn’t the only experimentation going on. “It’s a Funeral, What Did You Expect?” plays liberally with the use of vocals, jamming syllables into places they don’t fit and generally making mincemeat of preconceived notions of how you should arrange words in songs. Other than the vocal acrobatics, the song is the most straight-forward of the four here, sounding most like the old Denelian I’ve come to expect.
Closer “A Summer Heist” is my favorite track here. It uses the synth noises to create a film-noir-esque mood for the song, while using the snare-heavy beat and squawking guitars to create the paranoia of a bank robber on the lam. The great background vocals and stellar pacing of the song only contribute to the claustrophobic, nervous mood. The song is danceable, but even more than that, it’s listenable if you’re not dancing. With “A Summer Heist,” Denelian has moved out of the realms of a fantastic dance band into a band you can listen to on the road, on your bike, at your computer, or whenever.
Denelian’s experimentation has paid off in a different type of song for them. They’ve set for a long time in the “we can and WILL make you dance” arena; now they’re moving into writing straight-up good songs. I’m excited to see how this arm of their songwriting develops. Until then, I’ll keep dancing to “The Paycheck Makes the Man.”
(www.desotojones.com)Desoto Jones – Aurora
(www.deepelm.com) Deep Elm Records
This blend of alternative rock and post-hardcore is a wonderfully accessible album built with an independent spirit and musical training.
I’ve been always been a little hit and miss with Deep Elm releases. While some of my favorite bands have been on DER (The Appleseed Cast, Planes Mistaken for Stars), some bands I have not been too fond of (we won’t mention them). This being said, I was excited and nervous to open the newest release from DER, Desoto Jones’ Aurora. Following my usual routine, I put the album in my computer, sat down and relaxed. I was about five minutes in before I sat up and said “huh?”
I was only a minute into the second track when I wondered if I was still listening to the same band. The opening track “Speedbump” maintains a post-hardcore/alternative rock feeling that I really liked. Suddenly track two (“Don’t Fail Me”) had a more pop-punk feeling that was not present in “Speedbump.” As I listened through the entire album, I found that no two songs maintained a style. The album seemed to experiment with as many different styles as the band could competently play. After my first listen through I honestly had no idea if I liked the album or not, but I was sure that they guys of Desoto Jones knew how to play their instruments.
It actually took me over a dozen listens through the full album before I managed to really form an opinion on the album. The only overriding opinion I managed to form before my 12th exposure was that the songs did not get boring. I was able to listen through the album without skipping tracks and without getting annoyed at any guitar riffs. I was honestly surprised when I realized I was not getting bored with the album.
Finally, I realized that the thing that confused me about Desoto Jones was that they actually managed to produce music that I’ve been wishing someone would produce. They’ve managed to produce high quality music that is capable of appealing to the masses. Desoto Jones took the formula for a good independent album and blended it with Sony records requirements for a radio-friendly single and played it with the heart of true independent musicians.
I can honestly say that this is probably the best signing Deep Elm has made in a long time. The music is accessible yet it isn’t dumbed down. It is truly an excellent blend of the spirit of independent music that encourages bands to experiment with their sound and a sensibility about writing music that people will listen to.
From Mosh to Rush: A Musical Metamorphosis
By Megan Morgan
Black Sabbath, Metallica, Kiss and Slayer have more in common that just their heavy-metal-band status. All of these groups stayed metal throughout their careers.
But, as one New England band recently proved, a metal band does not necessarily have to stay that way forever.
The group Apparitions formed in 2006, playing driving, high-energy hardcore/metal music. They continued to inspire headbanging and moshing until the summer of 2007, when the band went on an “indefinite hiatus,” according to ex-band member Cosmo DiGiulio. The five members went on to work on their own individual projects for about five months.
After this break, drummer Patrick Murphy suggested that the band reform. And so, from Apparitions’ ashes, a new band, (http://www.myspace.com/godandcountrymusic) God & Country, formed. All five original members joined this new group, but despite the familiar lineup, one aspect of Apparitions changed drastically. God & Country is a prog-rock band.
So why did these former-metalheads decide to switch genres? DiGiulio, guitarist and accordion-player, felt that they could accomplish more outside of the heavy-music scene.
“While trying to maintain a certain aura of originality, Apparitions also fell into the trap of writing parts solely to fit into narrow scopes of particular genres,” DiGiulio said. “God & Country has completely weeded that mentality out of the equation, and now our writing process is guided by our desire to create music that we enjoy, love, and find interesting.”
DiGiulio also said that God & Country focuses on creating complete, structured albums, instead of just writing individual songs. He thinks these ideas and the development of their new sound is partly due to the time they spent apart.
“Without this break God & Country could not have formed,” DiGiulio said. “It was very beneficial that we were allowed some time to be apart. We all got the chance to dabble in vastly different genres of music and then somehow collectively inherit a vision of what kind of band we wanted to become.”
That vision came about through much verbal communication, even before God & Country played any new music. By talking it all out first, DiGiulio said, they were able to improve from their old band.
“We figured out all the things we felt didn’t work in Apparitions, and how we were going to expand on some of the untapped talents within the band,” he said. “Once we sorted that all out, I feel like things came pretty easily to all of us.”
The music of the new group God & Country strives to redefine prog-rock.
“Most progressive bands now depend on their ability to perform incredibly difficult musical passages to wow their audience,” DiGiulio said. “God & Country works very hard to create interesting textures and dynamics within melodic structures, which we hope to develop as the hallmark of our sound.”
God & Country released their first album, Molloch, in early 2008. Recently, bassist and vocalist Justin Nicholas amicably split with God & Country, but band member Nathaniel MacKinnon now covers bass and vocals.
With their musical metamorphosis complete, DiGuilio said that the band plans to make many more records and travel.
- (http://www.myspace.com/leonardmynx) Leonard Mynx – Pumpkin
Thoughtful, mature Americana/folk with indie leanings.
It is an absolute travesty that Leonard Mynx’s Pumpkin was self-released, because that means the amount of people who will hear this album will not be as many as it would be on a label.
Channeling troubadours like Tom Waits and the late Jeff Buckley, Mynx dives into the spirit of American music with fortitude. From the slight country twang of “Doomsday Clock” to the early American rock’n’roll feel of “Ain’t A Woman Alive” to the eclectic blues of “Bones” and the folk balladry of “Pony,” Mynx manages to keep the nine songs of Pumpkin as one cohesive whole and not a compilation of American song styles.
Mynx is complemented by an excellent band, especially by electric guitarist Nate Clark (Mynx throws in his own electric tracks as well). Clark’s simplistic style is very reminiscent of Jeff Buckley or Pete Yorn, going for quality over quantity. There is also some wonderful usage of slide guitar in several of the songs that creates a very western feel in them. Mynx’s vocals also lend much to the music. He has a soft, emotional quality that gives the album a cohesive tone. It must also be noted that, from this album, it is impossible to tell that Mynx and his band actually recorded this album as a live set. The music is that spot on.
Mynx does have a slight tendency to ramble musically. The shortest song on the album clocks in at 4 minutes and 15 seconds, and most others fall near the 4 minute 20 second mark. However, the folk ballad “Pony” clocks in at over eight minutes. While the song is excellent in its own right, it can be exhausting to listen to and very tempting to skip if you’re not in the right mood for it.
Basically, if you can get a hold of Leonard Mynx’s Pumpkin, do so immediately. This is an immense talent who deserves far more recognition.
Lords of the North – Lords of the North
Heavy, low, old-school metal that’s impressive in its songwriting power.
I’m not much for modern metal. The mentality that states, “The faster and louder we play, the better we are,” just doesn’t click with me. I don’t feel that it’s true. Lords of the North agree with me.
Lords of the North play slow, bottom-heavy old-school metal. Blues is its father, distortion its mother. Southern rock is its distant cousin. It’s the type of music you bang your head slowly to and throw up the metal horns without irony or shame to. There are riffs that are only measurable in the megatons of weight they carry. This is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, but it never feels trite. This feels unabashedly awesome.
There is nothing complex about the formula that the Lords of the North employ: they just employ it astoundingly well. The guitar has the same crushing tone throughout. The bassist plays moving lines that are actually audible. The drummer keeps the slow tempo rock solid. It’s not crawling; it’s epic. Everything that Lords of the North do has a certain majestic feel to it.
There’s nothing left to chance – everything is deliberate, and the tempos are just the most obvious outworking of their ethic. The guitars are incredibly tight – never dropping or obscuring the rhythm. In a metal world where sludge is king, this type of heavy precision is almost unheard of. I can tell everything that’s going on in these songs, and that makes them all the better.
The vocals are the icing on the cake. They’re classic heavy metal – not a snarl or a shriek, but more of a condemning howl. They mesh perfectly with the sound, especially on “Follow the Falcon.”
There’s only six songs on the EP, but they average over six minutes each. These are epics in every sense of the word. Their length belies it, the performances declare it, and their ethic employs it. These performances are incredible – from the fast-paced chug of “Beams of Light” to the dinosaur stomp of “Loyal Legion” to the truly evil sounding “The March.”
This band is heavy. It’s not especially distorted (in the modern sense), it’s not especially fast, but it is unbelievably low and merciless. These are fantastic old-school metal songs that don’t sound old or dated. I am completely astonished at the power that Lords of the North are able to create here.
New Grenada – Model Citizen EP
Vintage grunge in a modern world. What?
I have nothing against grunge. I like Nirvana, I enjoy “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam and I’ve been known to hum Soundgarden songs from time to time. So trust me; when I say this next phrase, I say it as a statement of fact, not a statement of anger. Here it is:
Grunge is dead.
And I’m not sure anyone told New Grenada that when they set out to write Model Citizen.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Model Citizen’s four songs. The band plays together. The high-pitched vocals, while not the greatest in the world, fit with the material. The guitars play hooks. The drums provide some really nice fills. You can even hear the bass player, whose presence is not as common as I would like it to be in modern music. No, there’s nothing that’s wrong mechanically with these tunes.
Stylistically, they sound like they’re stuck in 1993. I suppose if you’re still an avid supporter of grunge, this is great for you. For me, this is a confusing release. “My Spirits Go Down With The Sun” is a really distorted, strum-up-and-down grunge song. It just is. “I don’t know what to think is true, and I don’t know what to think of you,” lead singer John Nelson cries out in the chorus, and I echo the sentiment. Even the solo has the tone and the rhythmic ideas of a grunge solo. I just don’t get what’s going on here.
“January 1st” and “Model Citizen” follow the same guidelines. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the performances, but I just don’t know why these songs exist. It’s like they’re mining a mine that people long ago found to be empty. “Model Citizen” even appropriates the low-end, clean-electric guitar tone that Nirvana nearly trademarked.
The one saving grace is (very appropriately) “I Will Let You Know Why.” If the title is to be believed, the reason that they had three grunge songs before it is to show us their influences when they reveal the less-grungy, more garage-y sound of this final track. The previous three tracks have a very closed feel; this fourth one has a wide-open, exciting feel to it. There are female harmonies, there are high-hat rattles, and they’ve dropped the monotonous grunge strum pattern for a more herky-jerky one that sounds more modern. It’s a good song, and I could see myself listening to it on the road.
So, in short, this release is confusing. If you like grunge, you’ll really like this. If you like garage-y, beach-y type music like the Raveonettes, you should iTunes “I Will Let You Know Why.” Other than that, this one is a puzzle.
The Scene is Actually Surviving?
Usually I use this column to complain about something that is wrong with the indie music scene. But this month I don’t have anything bad to complain about (well, actually, I could complain about a lot of things, but I’ll spare you for once). This month I’m actually happy about something that is happening in my scene: the resurgence of house shows.
I know it all depends on the scene (and local law enforcement) but in many places the house show is nothing more than a memory for some of the old-timers in the scene. Almost everyone in underground music knows the stories of the north Jersey house show scene that played host to the likes Boy Sets Fire, Deadguy and Snapcase. The same north Jersey scene gave birth to Thursday, My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday, believe it or not. The scene, based around shows that were hosted by teenagers in their parents’ basements, represented the grit that the underground scene is based around.
In a lot of places, especially on the east coast, house shows have died. Now this is not a result of kids being lazy, or band’s egos that won’t allow them to play small shows. It’s the police. Try to put four hardcore bands and a hundred kids into a basement in suburban central Jersey and the neighbors won’t be ignoring it like they used to. And while moving shows from houses to large(er) venues allows more kids to see shows, it detracts something from the experience when it’s one guy who is the promoter for every show in an area. It also raises the prices.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending my first house show in years. It was at the Campbell Club Co-op in Eugene, Oregon. The show was well organized, as responsibilities for the show were split between the members of the co-op and the sponsoring magazine The Oregon Voice (the rogue student-run publication on the campus of the University of Oregon that is also the most respectable publication on campus). The show truly gave me hope that underground is not dying.
Now, every time someone tells me that indie and hardcore kids are nothing but trouble, I can honestly say that it is a load of bull. Despite a security task force that consisted of two nineteen year old girls and me there were no problems during the show. Kids helped each other out; they stayed quiet on the porch and kept the cops from having any reason to stop the show. There were four hundred kids who actually cared enough to protect the scene and ensure that the show could continue. There are actually kids who care about underground music.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that there are hundreds of kids out there who actually care about music, but I was. And I am happy.
(Myspace.com/patrickportermusic)Patrick Porter – A Swan at Smiley’s
Fuzzy indie with a DIY/folk spin, perfect for summer.
You know that feeling you get in the middle of a long, sizzling summer? You’re lazy and slow-moving like a three-toed sloth conserving his energy, but somehow things still happen. That’s a bit what Patrick Porter’s album A Swan at Smiley’s is like. This makes sense, since Porter wrote and personally recorded all the album’s tracks during the summer of 2007.
A Swan at Smiley’s doesn’t merely capture the essence of summer, however. Porter literally recorded his own personal summer. Included are the sights, feelings and thoughts that Porter experienced. After listening to this album, I almost feel like I was there with him in his apartment in Denver, Colorado, located at the corner of the biggest laudromat in the world – Smiley’s.
The songs themselves are mostly slow-paced, bluesy, lo-fi tunes that invoke a sense of intimacy. But sometimes the DIY goes a little far: the first and last tracks were recorded on a local hotel’s lobby piano. The recordings are overly fuzzy to the point that the song itself can hardly be distinguished. Sure, it’s kitschy and personal, but in my opinion, it’s also unnecessary. The quality of the remaining tracks, however, is significantly better. They don’t sound over-produced, and don’t lose the friendly, private feel.
“Goodbye Teta” and “Schopenhauer Rock” are some of my favorite tracks on the album, although their subject matters are quite different. The former is a breakup song, but feels more realistic and less mushy. It’s actually one of the more up-tempo songs on A Swan at Smiley’s. The bass drum hits and acoustic guitar riffs play off each other to drive the song forward and make it the catchiest on the album. “Schopenhauer Rock” addresses how things could’ve been different if the narrator had been someone or something else. The verses are set up in a simple pattern, but they still get a spiritual and reflective message across.
I can’t wait to listen to this album in the intense summer heat of July in Texas. Sitting in my backyard at high noon, which is stifling even in the shade, will be the best medium for fully enjoying Patrick Porter’s A Swan at Smiley’s. Even though this setting is very different from Porter’s, I still feel that this album will relate to my lazy, hazy, pensive summer.
- Megan Morgan