Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Some notes and some songs

January 11, 2009

To keep all you readers in the loop: this upcoming week is going to be kinda scattershot with the posts. On the 19th we’re going to start regular daily posting, and even that will be erratic for a week or two as we get used to our new system. Bear with us. The rust is pretty thick after eight months, you know. It’s tough to shake it off quickly.

Some stuff to tide you over:

David Shultz has a beautiful new demo up called “Down the Road.” You can check it out at end of his player on his Myspace.

Novi Split has three new demos posted. My favorite Novi Split songs are demos, so this is awesome. In fact, Keep Moving was nothing but demos (as evidenced by the fact that follow-up Pink in the Sink sounded like what would have happened on Keep Moving if more than one instrument was playing at a time). As with most things Novi Split, these three new songs are gorgeous, precise and will stick with you.

I stumbled across obscure songs by Jim Ward (Sparta/Sleepercar) and Tim Kasher (Cursive/The Good Life) on this myspace. I own this album (the My Favorite Songwriters compilation album, put out to celebrate Five One, Inc.‘s ten-year anniversary), and it’s a pretty solid comp with all-original tracks. The overall mood is a little bit darker than I usually listen to on a whim, but it’s hard to knock any of the tracks.

Fairmont Transcends their previous work.

January 9, 2009

I’ve followed Fairmont through three full-length albums and an EP. It’s not a surprise to me that Transcendence, the fourth full-length by Neil Sabatino and Co. that I’ve had the privilege of  reviewing, improves on their last work musically. This is a trend they have continued (with only the occasional slip-up) since the beginning of their time as a band. The startling thing about Transcendence is the fact that everything else about the album is amazing as well.

Not to knock on Fairmont’s previous work (you will find my glowing reviews of their previous work if you search), but it always fell just short of that thing that kept it playing in my CD player. Maybe the lyrics were horribly morose.  The song order was sketchy. Sometimes the songs had great parts and regrettable parts mashed next to each other.  Transcendence fixes all these problems and creates a total album.

Yes, Transcendence should be played front to back each time, because the song order matters. The album has an ebb and flow that would be totally lost in a pick-and-choose listening. The songs of Transcendence seem autobiographical in the best sense: the album feels chronological, as if I were reading a book about Neil Sabatino. This, again, is due to the song order, which places a discussion of his childhood spent in an apocalyptic commune first. The bizarre conduct of the cult sets the stage for the skepticism and existentialism that characterize the rest of the album. It’s easy to draw connections in all of the other songs from points within the first song (the easiest being a reprise of the bridge in the last song, with more obscure references and touchpoints throughout). In short, the lyrics and song order suck me into a world that I inhabit for forty minutes. Seeing as Sabatino’s existentialism is completely counter to my Christian worldview, my total immersement in the ideas and themes of the album while I’m hearing it is a compliment to the descriptive and impassioned quality of the lyrics.

But it’s not just the lyrics that make tunes like “Everyone Hates a Critic” and “Luck Will Change” into the outstanding pieces of music they are. Highlight “Everyone Hates a Critic” has an incredibly interesting rhythmic pattern and a neat chord progression. It’s hard to not like it. “Luck Will Change,” while being the bleakest on the album, lyrically, is pretty upbeat and fun. Both songs feature piano/synths, which is a new thing for Fairmont, and it’s a very good thing.

In terms of rocking, “Omaha” wins. It has a raucous riff, a sinister mood, and a vaguely surf-rock mood. I sing it when it comes up on the album. “Melt Your Heart” is also pretty punked-out for being a love song.

“Melt Your Heart” ends with the bridge from the first song “Being and Nothingness,” as  the male and female vocalists declare their love for each other over the repeated group-sing of “aimless!” It’s the transcendence that Fairmont named the album after; love will overcome the existential angst of being. Whether or not that’s what you think, you will enjoy this pop/rock album; it’s expertly crafted and precisely written. Easily the best Fairmont has produced.

The New (not so) Dumb

January 7, 2009

2008 album Let’s Get Lucky by The New Dumb can be summed up in one word: catchy. I don’t mean that in an ironic way, or with any sort of sarcasm. As I listened to their latest work, I found myself humming along, doing a little groove in my chair. I drew comparisons to The Raconteurs, with a hint of The Hives or The Killers. They’ve got a solid indie/punk/rock thing going on, and they’re worth checking out.

Allston, Massachusetts, band The New Dumb has been around since 2003, when, in their words, “Rock music was ready for a messiah. Instead, they received The New Dumb.” They’ve played mostly in Massachusetts and New York, though a 2007 tour saw them hit places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Prior to Let’s Get Lucky, they’ve released This Could Be Disastrous, their debut EP, which came out in 2006.

Let’s Get Lucky opens with “Pea-knuckle,” a cool, entertaining number that really gives you a good feel for their sound – it’s got relatively simple rhythm, but it works. What really sets it apart from other bands’ songs are the vocals – both lead vocals, performed by guitarist Foster Hoyt, and backup vocals, done by bassist Jason Edmands. The group is rounded out by drummer Brian Rusnica (who, according to their promo material, hardly sings).

As I familiarize myself with The New Dumb, both through their music and by checking out their website, it has become obvious that at least one of these guys, and perhaps even all of them, have a great sense of humor. More than anywhere else, this is obvious in their third track, “The Viper The Bison The Weasel The Whale-Man” (from here on out, I’m just going to use TVTBTWTWM). The lyrics for the song are silly, frankly, and this is underscored by the accent that Hoyt affects for the performance. TVTBTWTWM opens saying, “Oh, the viper says/ My poison rests when I’m finally fed/ I don’t believe you/ The bison says/ But the bison is dead.” The instrumental side of things underscores the lyrics with up-tempo beats and explosive hits.

My favorite of this six-track album is the last – “Dance Solo.” It starts with a simple electronic intro, eventually adding in bass, drums, guitar, and vocals. More than anything, it sounds like a bit of Ok Go got mixed in, and that’s not a bad thing. This song is really fun – simple, but fun. “Dance Solo” is easily the best song of the album; it transitions perfectly from electronic-influenced stuff to rocking my face off in the span of about five seconds. On a side note, The New Dumb absolutely made my day with this one – near the end, they threw in some cowbell! Awesome.

Let’s Get Lucky is a cool rock album that is deserving of your attention. From “Pea-knuckle” to TVTBTWTWM, The New Dumb knows what they’re doing, and they do it with a swagger that few can pull off. If you’ve got some cash burning a hole in your pocket, this album would be a great way to spend it.

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Spend some hours with Thistle

January 6, 2009

The guys in Thistle rock the indie music scene, and they’ve been doing it for longer than most people in the business. Formed in 1994, these guys have patiently developed their sound into something so formidable any mainstream band should be honored to share the stage with them. When listening to them, I drew parallels to Emery mixed with a little Jonezetta. There’s also a hint of the Hives, maybe even a bit of Weezer. Their most recent album is called The Small Hours, and it merits some serious attention.

Thistle is Toby Weiss on bass, Rick McCarty on drums, and Mike Montgomery rounding out the group with vocals and guitars. After playing with each other for so long, these guys have developed an incredible sense of balance, with none of them ever overpowering the others. Their sound is full and rich, a foundation of pounding drums and bass over which Montgomery’s guitars and vocals float perfectly.

Ironically, two of the songs I really liked on the album were “The Ground Begins” and “The Distant Talk of Brothers,” both instrumental tracks. I found them absolutely fascinating, entirely in keeping with the rest of the album’s sound, but reminiscent of work from post-rock ensembles like Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You. Members of Thistle: if you’re reading this, I think an instrumental album would be really cool.

“Year of Frozen Limbs” is one of the better songs on the album – it seems like there are moments of clarity on this album, and this is one of them. The vocals seem clearer; they’re powerful without losing control. Frankly, I enjoyed Montgomery’s vocals on this song much more than on “Coffin Notes” (which is saying something, because that song was pretty good). Pounding, insistent refrains provide the perfect counterpart to the vocals on this track.

The last track on the album is the aptly-titled “The Departure.” An awesome guitar lick opens it, and bass and drums have a good intro point. Unfortunately, it feels like the vocals came in too early, subduing what could have been a really powerful build into the song. Overall, though, this seems more thought-out than the other tracks, and it’s a great way to end the album. It feels as though everything up to “The Departure” was just to prepare for this song. None of the parts are particularly complicated, but they’re pulled off perfectly – the blend is exquisite between bass, drums, guitar, and vocals. This is the sum of the album.

Thistle is one of those bands that grows on you. The first time I listened to the 2008 album The Small Hours, I was unimpressed. The more I heard it, though, the more I liked it. If you want to hear a great contribution to the independent music scene, I recommend looking at The Small Hours by Thistle.

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It's Mo(u)rning Music

January 5, 2009

That was my sister’s first reaction to “Darken Me” from Electric Owls’ EP Magic Show. Whether she meant music well-suited to a funeral or to the a.m., I believe she was right. Light beats are juxtaposed with dark lyrics in songs like “Cannibal Superstar.” “Magic Show” suggests bagpipes hovering behind tinkling melodies and “Darken Me” is distinctly Americana, but all of it is electronic. The EP, released in early November, is the work of Andy Herod, on break from his band The Comas. A promising new band, Electric Owls’ album is set to release in the first weeks of April. Four months and counting.

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My Music of 2008

January 1, 2009

This year has been really fragmented for me. After having the last five years totally absorbed by music (via Independent Clauses or various bands I’ve been in), I spent most of this year not doing anything music-related. In the eight months that Independent Clauses was down, I busied myself with other things. Thus, I don’t have enough information to really make an adequate top ten or even top five list of the year’s best. What I do have is a playlist composed of the tracks that I listened to the most in 2008. Some of these tracks are old; some of these came from 2008. “Now” by Mates of State is my favorite track off my favorite album of 2008 (Re-arrange Us). “Sax Rohmer #1” is a stand-out track from Heretic Pride by the Mountain Goats, another top album of ’08. “Talking in Code” and “Price is Right” take the prize for best overall songs I discovered.

Work Out Your Salvation Through Fear and Trembling: a 2008 retrospective

1. “Brother” by Annuals
2. “The Lining is Silver” by Relient K
3. “You Can Make Him Like You” by The Hold Steady
4. “Story Problem” by the Envy Corps
5. “Now” by Mates of State
6. “Weird” by Clem Snide
7. “Sax Rohmer #1” by the Mountain Goats
8. “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love” by Coldplay
9. “Blue Eleanor” by Old Canes
10. “The Swiss Army Romance” by Dashboard Confessional
11. “My Rollercoaster” by Kimya Dawson
12. “Sinaloan Milk Snake Song” by the Mountain Goats
13. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Right Away, Great Captain!
14. “Monster Ballads” by Josh Ritter
15. “Table for Two” by Caedmon’s Call
16. “California Skies” by Novi Split
17. “Talking in Code” by Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s
18. “Makers” by Rocky Votolato
19. “Murder in the City” by Avett Brothers
20. “Price is Right” by Aaron Robinson and the Lost Verses

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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