(Myspace.com/polarbearclub)Polar Bear Club – Sometimes Things Just Disappear
(www.redleaderrecords.com)Red Leader Records
An album full of “Fist in the air, screaming along at the top of your lungs” emo/post-hardcore.
I approached this review with trepidation, because it already made it to one of our best of 2007 lists. It’s just not good form for a magazine to contradict itself. Thankfully, Polar Bear Club have proved themselves to be just as good as advertised.
Polar Bear Club’s Sometimes Things Just Disappear is a fantastic rock album. We could debate exactly what this is for a long time (Emo? Post-hardcore? Hardcore? Rock? Punk?), but the straight-forward answer is that this is “Fists in the air, screaming along at the top of your lungs” music. There’s no better explanation I can give than that – but seeing as it’s my job to illuminate that phrase for the next 200 words, I’ll continue.
Polar Bear Club is made up of a bunch of vets (ex-Achilles, ex-Marathon, ex-Spark Lights the Friction) and it shows. These guys know their way around a riff, they know how to mess with tempo for best effect, and they know how to write great songs. This maturity is shown by the fact that the first 42 seconds of the album is a mellow instrumental (don’t worry, the ‘ripping faces off’ bit crunches in right after). It’s easily apparent that they are holding nothing back.
Their lyrics provide an unexpected bonus. There are some embarrassingly honest lyrics (“Damn it all, I am just sad” from “Burned Out in a Jar”), but there are also several songs that have vividly described scenes and nearly lucid detail. “The Bug Parade” describes the despair the author feels as his girlfriend and her mom talk in the kitchen about the narrator. The music takes a backseat to the vocals, letting the vocals develop the song instead of the charging guitars. The music is still great – but they know that the lyrics are the winner here, and they let them show.
The second moment of intense clarity is the standout track “Our Ballads.” The song is social commentary, scene commentary and an amazing song wrapped into one. It’s about a neighbor/lawyer that criticizes the band for “alienating girls from boys” with their music. They spend a third of the song explaining the man, a third of the song explaining the emotive response from the author, and the final third proclaiming a taunting call: “So you’re saying that a female only listens to ballads and love songs? The girls that I know wouldn’t think so, but according to you our songs should separate all the girls from the boys,” the lead singer (and, sarcastically, a group of male backup yelling) assert viciously at the end of the song.
On top of being a great set of lyrics, the music matches it perfectly. Other standout tracks include the straightforward and intensely melodic “Heart Attack at Thirty,” and the poignant yet still powerful punk charge of “Hollow Place.”
If I’ve said charging and rocking a bunch of times, that’s because those words best describe Polar Bear Club. It’s hard to describe why songs this good are this good. I can take them apart and explain it on a musical level, but that would be cutting out the passion and the connection between the band members. There’s something here that not many bands have. I hope that the people in the band like each other, because if they do, this band should have a long, long life. They’ve got the passion for the scene, the self-loathing to keep writing great lyrics, and a seemingly endless supply of hooks to keep it going a while. If you like guys who scream their insecurities and make you want to scream with them, this album is for you.
The Mason Brothers – The Sun, The Moon & The Sea
Brilliant, mellow traditional acoustic folk that never gets boring or repetitive.
Sometimes I just want to hear an album that’s mellow all the way through. Yeah, I’ve got mellow playlists. The problem with playlists is that although they may contain mellow music, they conjure up all sorts of good and bad memories. It’s not mellow emotionally when I’m remembering why the Iron and Wine cover of “Such Great Heights” means so much to me, or when I’m scrambling to forward the playlist past the song my ex and I had as “our song.”
The Mason Brothers’ The Sun, the Moon & the Sea is truly mellow. The folksy songwriting is 90 percent acoustic guitar, the tempos are slow and the vocals are soft. In addition to being instrumentally mellow, it’s emotionally calm. The songs are beautiful and ponderous, but not depressing. There are few ruminations on lost love here – the few romantic musings that do exist are so warmly couched in comforting, loose-fitting folk that it’s hard to notice their inherent angst.
The Mason Brothers choose traditional folk as the medium for their ingenuity. It’s an astounding choice, because there’s hardly anything traditional about today’s up-and-coming folksters. It’s all about new-folk and indie-pop/folk and freak-folk and whatnot for most people. But the Mason Brothers have more in common with Simon and Garfunkel than Josh Ritter. There are few syncopations, even fewer songwriting tricks and almost no accompanying instrumentation. Despite the lack of ornamentation, the Mason Brothers succeed in writing memorable, hummable, exciting songs. In fact, in some cases it is because the songs are so spare that they are so powerful.
“Hands on Fire” carries an astonishing intensity made that much more powerful by the fact that it’s merely two finger-picked acoustic guitars and vibes in the lyrical breaks. The bluegrass feel of “Divide” is appreciable only because the deft fingerpicking isn’t covered by loads of extra instruments. “Ready, Set, Go” is the song that will stick with you, as you’ll be humming fragments of the melody after the album’s over. “Into the Mines” is a lullaby, intended or not.
With the exception of the uptempo “Divide,” the entire album plays out like a long lullaby. The final track “Round and Round” is no disappointment on that front. The guitars are melodic, easy on the tempo and ear-catching. The vocals call up Art Garfunkel in a good way. The song rolls easily onward, never intrusive on the ears, but never falling into background noise. It’s easily discernable from the other tracks on the album, while still definitely being the Mason Brothers’ creation. It’s a perfect example of why I love this band.
The Mason Brothers are songwriters extraordinaire on this album. If they can keep this level of quality up, I see no reason why they won’t go on to major success in the field. They have every quality needed: guitar prowess, songwriting skill, melodic gift and the x factor that ties it all together. I listen to this album all the time, because it’s truly mellow and not ashamed of that fact. The Mason Brothers accomplished what they set out to do with this album: make a definitive statement in a very unobtrusive way. Brilliant; not to be missed.
Vedera – Acoustic Tour Sampler
Perfect acoustic-pop songs delivered by the best female voice I’ve discovered in years.
As my female friends will tell you, I have a disproportionate love of male artists. This is also expressed as, “Why don’t you like Fiona Apple?”
I have two responses, depending on my mood. If I’m not feeling up to a musical debate, I respond with “I relate better to Regina Spektor.”
If I’m feeling like an argument, I counter with, “Fiona Apple is a female Dashboard Confessional – both are whiny yet somehow empowering. And each of their early work was way better than their newer work.”
The honest truth is that I’m extremely harsh on any artist that I listen to. I would guess that I let through about the same percentage of female and male artists into my heavy rotation. There’s just more male artists to pick through, resulting in more male artists that I listen to.
Back to the main point – my female friends will tell you that I have a disproportionate love of male artists. They know that when I recommend a female artist, it’s going to be great. With that as a prefix, I bring you Vedera, and more specifically, Kristen May.
Vedera is a fantastic pop band, and it is entirely due to the incredible pipes of Ms. Kristen May. Her voice is like that of Leigh Nash from the equally laudable Sixpence None the Richer, except with the dusky breathiness that so annoys me. Her voice is a clear, bright soprano that cuts through noise and delivers the chills. I am not kidding – this woman’s voice gives me chills. This particular tour sampler that I have in my possession makes great use of that voice. The two songs that I am listening to are both acoustic versions of songs off their upcoming release. The acoustic version, by its very nature, strips things down to the barebones and accentuates the songwriting and the vocals. These two particular acoustic versions remind me why acoustic versions are such a brilliant idea.
I saw Vedera perform both “Satisfy” and “Taking Chances” live with a full band. They were astonishing then, but with all the excess stripped away, they become downright revelatory. Kristen May’s voice is gorgeous, and when supplemented by only one instrument, the genius of the songwriting is revealed as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these songs. They are both note-perfect.
“Satisfy” is the first of the songs, and it is the immediate soul-grabber. It’s played on acoustic guitar, and the simple pattern of notes sets the stage for the skyscraping vocal performance. I often cringe when vocalists go for the high notes, but on these two songs I grin in anticipation. She hits it every time; even live, which is notorious for destroying vocals. It’s jaw-dropping and a little bit heart-stopping.
“Taking Chances” is piano-based, and while it takes a little longer to establish in your head as amazing, it certainly earns the term by the end. May is more cautious with the high vocals, reserving the high notes for later in the song. But the songwriting is still in great effect – the tension and release into the chorus is fantastic.
Like I said earlier, these two songs are perfect. There is nothing wrong with either one. Although this tour sampler was only available at the corresponding tour, the take home message is simple: listen to Vedera. Right now. If you like people who sing pretty (and judging by the obscene amount of people who vote for American Idol, most of you do), you have to listen to Vedera. I’m going to mark Vedera as my best find of the year so far; when their album drops, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing.
Tracks From Another Planet
Hey, everyone! Nick here from music blog extraordinaire [url= http://alienhits.blogspot.com/]#1 Hits from Another Planet[/url]. I’m thrilled to contribute some of my thoughts on fantastic music each month here at Independent Clauses Magazine. Since you’ll be poring over my thoughts in a moment (and clutching them dear to your heart, I trust), I figure I should let you know a bit about my musical tastes before going any further since it pretty much dictates the type of music that I’m likely to be drawn to.
I’m an enormous believer in the pure pop melody. I’m not talking about any of that lame teen/tween/whatever stuff that was all over the place a few years ago. No, a classic melody can be found in any genre of music. Unfortunately, these days you’re more likely to find it anywhere but America. Much of the music I post on my blog is international. I have an affinity for all things Scandinavian, and England and Australia have also been churning out some fantastic stuff lately.
I invite anybody reading to visit my blog. I offer daily music posts and more in-depth reviews like the ones below. Until then, enjoy October’s finds!
Tracks to check out:
(all can be sampled on[url= http://alienhits.blogspot.com/]#1 Hits From Another Planet[/url])
Dolly Daggers – “Never Ending”
Remember Eve 6? They had that “Heart in a Blender” song that was so freaking catchy during the late nineties. Well, Dolly Daggers are like a more interesting version of them, with more keyboards and definitely more make-up. “Never Ending” is catchy and memorable from the start, with a good old fashioned guitar solo and a lot of appropriate punkish attitude. Plus, they are from Sweden- and, as we should all know, Sweden is music’s holy land. The lead singer is bringing the Billy Idol bleached blonde style back and the song is one of the best I’ve heard in the past month.
Alphabeat – “Fascination”
Get ready for perhaps the most energetic, happiest song I’ve heard all year. Denmark’s Alphabeat have yet to release an actual album yet but if “Fascination” is anything to go by, when they do it’s gonna be massive. It all starts with an addictive, Pippettes-ish hand clap beat and then rolls along on a bed of playful girl/boy vocals until it hits the chorus, which is where it all blows into the stratosphere. Then the boogie guitar comes in…freaking epic. I am eagerly awaiting further work from this group, though they have already set the bar extremely high for themselves.
Cute Phase – “Just a Moment”
This new L.A. trio specializes in goth-tinged synth pop with a commercial edge. Sounding a bit like a combo of The Upper Room and Elkland, it’s a successful, catchy sound. “Just a Moment” was the song that jumped out most immediately to me upon listening to their material. It’s a mid-tempo, sweeping (yet simple) synth-drenched track with a really memorable hook. Perfect for these dark autumn nights.
Mani Sphinx – “Last Night in America”
Denmark’s Mani Spinx creates the kind of experimental rock/folk/pop that artists like Beck have made famous. “Last Night in America” is a brooding throwback with a fantastic melody that manages to be a sing-along even though the song’s quite dark. Plus, Spinx describes his music as “Beatles on crack.” What could be better, really? It’s artists like these the world needs!
(http://www.bentleft.com) Bent Left – Premeditated Insanity
Punk/hardcore that delivers the goods.
Politically charged and punk-rocking hard, Missouri punks Bent Left deliver a satisfying, if brief, release with Premeditated Insanity.
Political punk can often fall short of poignancy or be so heavy-handed that it’s unbearable. It can also fall somewhere between sickeningly poppy (and therefore corny) or brutally aggressive to the point of being impossible to enjoy. However, Bent Left manages to find a good balance on both fronts.
The album presents an interesting sonic balance between harsher hardcore punk and the lighter, bouncy quality of pop-punk. The vocals can be harsh, but still maintain a good tone. These are not at all screaming; the sound of them might turn some people away, while others might find it too weak. It really just depends on how you like your punk. The music manages to follow a structure more in line with So-Cal or pop-punk, but at the same time, the band manages to tackle it with an aggressiveness more in line with hardcore.
The lyrics also manage to be far more poetic and abstract in their political sense. They are laced with symbolism and emotion rather than the “F*** the government” lines that often appear in political punk. The band manages to be far more creative than many political punks manage to be.
Lines like “And now, the debtors/they be locked away/we fight to keep the peace/the criminals in capitals/the followers in lead,” manage to display the band’s message without feeling to heavy-handed. They also have incredibly long song titles, which can be hit or miss with cleverness and creativity.
Unfortunately, even with seven songs, the album only clocks in at19 minutes. Most of them are incredibly brief and hard to discern from one another. However, the fourth track, “A Bologna Sandwich a Day Keeps the Doctor Away,” is the main exception, clocking in at three and a half minutes with catchy hooks, great lyrics and great vocal delivery.
All in all, Bent Left does an excellent job with Premeditated Insanity. Though the songs are somewhat muddied together, they have some excellent writing and delivery.
– Nate Williams
Lindby – Lindby 8.0
Fun, upbeat piano pop that has room to grow on the serious side.
One of the things that makes Weezer fantastic in my mind is the ability to cover fun and serious material with equal ease. The Blue Album is a masterpiece of goofy, nerdy passions – one that has been celebrated in garages by outsider high school students since its creation. Its follow-up, Pinkerton, is a dark and brooding masterpiece of angst, celebrated just as passionately but by less people. It’s just not the same Weezer from The Blue Album, say some. And they’re right: it’s not. But the ability to be both things effectively is what endears me to the band.
Lindby is a goofy piano-pop band. They excel at creating jubilant, giddy pieces of upbeat piano tomfoolery. Their serious stuff meets a little bit of a roadblock; they can’t transfer the saccharine honesty over to serious honesty.
Lindby’s formula is not complicated. They start with a simple piano line, whether it be chords or just a melody. Then they throw a drumbeat at it, then some accompanying guitar and bass. The piano, however simple, forms the basis of the songs. This isn’t true in every case, but it is the modus operandi most often employed. This is most easily shown in “Across the Blue,” which has a whimsical brass section opening the song along with piano. It bounces, quirks and floats its way on down the road. It’s completely enjoyable.
Part of their goofy character lies in the fact that their upbeat works are very bouncy. This is partly attributed to the fact that the band likes the up/down feel to their songs; another part of it is that their transitions are not very smooth. The band is good at its individual parts, but they don’t lock in together very well. There’s a lot of space in Lindby’s sound, and it’s hard to tell if it’s intentional or due to a cap on the capabilities of the band.
All of these thoughts come to their head in their best song, “Music Box.” The intro is a musicbox, then a piano. It’s a more serious song, but it’s hard to get the impression that it’s a serious song – the piano line is very upbeat. The drums and the vocal line inform us that it’s more serious, but it’s still a difficult sell. The timbre of the vocals doesn’t help either – used to being fast and hectic, they sound out of place trying to fit into a calmer setting. It just doesn’t fit with the ear until the chorus, when the song falls into place. The chorus is a fantastic chorus, and I can see that with some tweaks and a lot more practice, this song could be an enormous radio hit. It has some stellar hooks and the x factor that bands try so hard for in choruses.
Lindby is not a bad band. They have an expertise in goofy tunes, and they’re trying to branch out into more serious work. They just need to work on smoothing out the rough edges of their bouncy pop into smoother calm songs.
– Stephen Carradini
(http://www.joemccreadymusic.com) On the Way to Washington – The Way to Washington
Acoustic folk/pop songwriter still searching for his own voice.
No one should ever accuse Joe McCready of having a faulty internal editor. Here’s why: the far and away best song on his second full album is called “On the Way to Washington.” Joe McCready recognized this early on in the project – so much so that he renamed his band and his album to reflect this. He even put the song as the first track on the album.
The song is brilliant. “On the Way to Washington” is a folk song that does what you want it to do – it introduces a riff, introduces a calm, low, melodic vocal line that has enough emotion to feel real but no so much to get all sappy and pop-songy. Then the shuffling drumbeat comes in, a cello starts sawing away, and a piano tosses some notes in. Place names are called out; an ambiguous “you” is referenced. There’s a break, then another verse. McCready lets the tension build and build. By the time the chorus arrives, the tension is almost palpable.
The chorus, relentlessly memorable, crashes in. McCready’s smooth, lithe voice calms and excites at the same time. Singalongs ensue. The song weaves its way out. Then I hit repeat and listen to it over and over. The song is nearly perfect. The only thing it’s missing is an octave jump on the last chorus. I’m pretty serious about this.
Unfortunately, McCready has committed a cardinal sin of song order: he has undermined the reason to listen to the rest of the album. In positioning the stand-out track first, everything else feels inferior. The songwriting isn’t bad for the rest of the album; it’s just that it’s not nearly as good as “On the Way to Washington.”
“I Don’t Mind” sounds like what Jack Johnson would sound like if he ever woke up out of his coma. “Apple” starts out with hopes of reaching “…Washington,” but falls short after a jazz-lite piano mucks it up. There are insinuations of Jason Mraz (“Maybes”) and even the Beatles (“Goodbye,” “Grip Slips”) throughout, but the songs just don’t stand up to the glory that is “On the Way to Washington.”
And yet, the closer “Only One” goes a long way to redeem the album. It’s a spare ballad, very tender, very emotive. It keeps the interest level high, and it moves forward very well despite the overall snail’s pace tempo. It’s pretty. It’s memorable. Not “On the Way to Washington,” by any means, but it’s definitely an improvement over the rest of the album. Even more than that, it’s easily recognizable as Joe McCready. When he just calms down and does his thing, he does have a really recognizable voice and melodic structure.
Joe McCready has a few magical songs on The Way to Washington. If he can capitalize on these successes and use them to his advantage in his future efforts, his albums will be wonderful. He just needs to focus on his strengths and drop songs that he knows aren’t as strong as the rest.
(http://www.myspace.com/therighs)The Righs – The Rivers Run Deep
Irish-punk with strong acoustic songwriting and instrumentation.
I have only one problem with Irish punk: I can only hear two different sounds. No matter what Irish-punk band I’m listening to, I hear the Dropkick Murphys (Irish-PUNK) or Flogging Molly (IRISH-punk). That’s why hearing the Righs is so refreshing: it doesn’t feel like I’m listening to either staple of the genre.
In fact, on the best tracks of The Rivers Run Deep, The Righs summon comparisons to the decidedly non-Irish Neutral Milk Hotel rather than their Gaelic brethren. Standout track “Dublin: Easter, 1916” draws comparisons to Jeff Mangum’s “Holland, 1945” in more than just title. The heavy acoustic guitar strum, the crowded exuberance of the embellishing instrumentation and the underlying distortion drone of “Dublin” evoke feelings very similar to those that “Holland” creates. The Righs’ vocals are deeper and more ferocious than Mangum’s, and the lyrics are more straightforward story than NMH’s lucid dreaming, but it’s still a comparison that screams to be made.
If a NMH clone was all this band was, there wouldn’t be any reason to keep writing – there have been plenty of NMH clones over the years, and none have been as good as the original. But the Righs are not anyone’s clone. They have their Flogging Molly leanings (the mercilessly catchy “My Life in the Bike Scene”), their Dropkick Murphy moments (the nearly straight-forward rock song “That Guy”) and their “traditional Irish” moments (their rowdy takes on “Amazing Grace” and “Loch Lomond”).
But they don’t conform to any of those brackets. “Agony’s Night” is a sea shanty, Decemberists-style. “The Shire” is a well-written and performed song that also happens to be a tribute to Lord of the Rings. Heck, they even subvert the idea of a ballad by throwing distortion and a snare-heavy drumbeat under their prettiest song (“I’m Bound Away”). Yeah, they do lay it on heavy with the Irish-related lyrics, but that’s one of the few clichés that they fall into on the album.
The performances are solid, but it’s not the individual skill of the players that makes this album such fun to listen to. It’s not that the pan pipes or the violin are especially virtuosic – it’s the fact that the sound works together perfectly that makes this such an engaging listen.
In short, I’m no big fan of Irish punk, but I am a big fan of the Righs. Their songs are catchy, their instrumentation is varied, and the attention level is high. The songwriting prowess and melodic intensity captured in The Rivers Run Deep make for an engaging and exciting listen, no matter what you normally listen to.
(myspace.com/pomegranatesart)Pomegranates – Everything is Alive
Indie pop with an experimental yet natural feel.
The fruits named pomegranates are tangy, satisfying, and sweet. As it turns out, this description is also fitting for the band Pomegranates. On their first full-length album Everything is Alive, this new band delivers indie-pop with a fresh and bright sound. They have a knack for writing big-sounding songs that still feel intimate and personal, since many of them were recorded live.
The album opens with the overly fuzzy, lo-fi, psychedelic and swirling “Transportation,” but soon the album really gets started with “Whom/Who.” This song has an immediacy much more accessible than “Transportation,” with a catchy, attention-grabbing beginning. However, as “Whom/Who” develops, it becomes clear that it is much more than a catchy pop ditty. It expands into soaring melodies that have an epic feel, and ends with punchy accents.
“The Bellhop” differs from some of the danceable tracks on Everything is Alive by giving off a more laid-back and light vibe. It is tender and heartfelt, but never gets too cutesy. “The Bellhop” may not stand out at first listen of the album, but it is sure to attract notice after a few initial plays. The unique, reflective and smart lyrics are sung in a high, clear voice that really grows on the listener. Much of the same can also be said for “Desert Hymn,” a meditative, sparsely-instrumented, soothing song about faith.
However, most of the songs on this album are full, fun, and charming, like the rollicking “Appreciations” and the up-tempo “Thunder Island,” which keep the pace of Everything is Alive going.
The closer “Thunder Meadow” finishes by putting a strong cap on the album. There are many peaks and valleys, but they flow seamlessly together. Pomegranates play on their strengths by flowing between big, grand moments and quiet intimacy with ease, much like the rest of the album. “Thunder Meadow” seems to be like a mini-version of Everything is Alive.
When it ends, the listener is left feeling satisfied with the album’s completeness, but also ready to listen to the whole thing over again.
(http://www.theboroughs.net) The Boroughs – Self-titled
Brand new old-school punk.
The power trio out of Astoria, NY, that makes up The Boroughs shows off their diplomas from The Ramones’ Rock’n’Roll High School with their self-titled release.
From the classic punk rock hooks of “Hangin’ Out” to the more modern feel of tracks like “M.R.I” and the folk balladry of “Spine,” the band oozes with the essence of old school punk bands like The Ramones and The Stooges while bringing their own distinct sound to the mix, creating a wonderful mix of old and new. The mix of influences that comes out in the album could lead one to say that the band has musical ADD, yet somehow it feels like one cohesive whole. The Boroughs explode out of the starting gate at the beginning of the album and bring it down to a reserved lethargy with the folk ballads “Spine,” “Pussin’ Out” and “Say What You Want” that cut a drastically different sound than the rest of the album. For a punk album, The Boroughs’ self-titled album is unusually emotional and not in a bad way.
Credit must be given to the exceptional abilities of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Dwork, who has managed to fill every song on the album with catchy hooks, both in the instrumentation and vocally. His guitar work and vocals are equally impressive as his songwriting. It’s not to say that bassist Justin Farrell or drummer Grady Feldgus don’t hold their own, but Dwork is definitely the star of the show. This album simply grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go.
Definitely check out the tracks “Hangin’ Out,” “She’s Gotta Go,” “M.R.I,” “On My Own,” and “Spine,” if you can. The album is available on CDBaby.com and I highly recommend checking it out because this band has enormous potential, without a doubt.
– Nate Williams