Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Victorian Halls: Scream at Me and Never, Ever Stop.

February 28, 2009

There isn’t a moment to rest while listening to Victorian Halls’ sophomore EP, entitled, well, the Victorian Halls EP. At least that is what one might think while listening to the first track thrown at us like a dagger, called “Desperate Storyline.” It delights with plunking piano and the addicting squeal of lead singer Sean Lenart.

Things only get ten times better with the onslaught of “I’m Gonna Eat Your Brains and Gain Your Knowledge.” As if the title of the song alone isn’t enough to make one adore it, it explodes very angrily in the face of the listener. Immediately. The beauty of Victorian Halls is that the band is completely and utterly unique to me. They are their own sound. Sure, I find tiny little inspirations from random things I have heard over the timeline of my life in their music, but it’s a stabbing, pissed, passionate little genre of its own.

Victorian Halls is comparable only to a shark feeding frenzy taking place, but Victorian Halls EP seems to offer a bit more musicality than their last release. I love the piano. It’s upbeat. It’s forceful. A highlight on Victorian Halls EP is the sweet synth that enters in about minute two of “It’s Not Fad, It’s Etiquette.” They’d be wise to pepper in more synth on future tracks, I think.

“Neon Skies Light My Nerves Up” is a bit more rockin; the intro is heavy. This is what is so great about Victorian Halls! They are so innovative with each new song. Nothing is the same, yet it is so cohesive it’s like art. “Neon Skies” is an amazing dance track. I hear traces of synth, and drummer Mike Tomala hitting a speedy high hat on the upbeat, Lenart’s trademark screech—it makes for pure genius.

Even if the style of Victorian Halls isn’t what you’re used to—learn to love it. There is a lot to be discovered while listening to both Victorian Halls EP and their first album, Springteen. They’re unique and radical. A band like this, that truly does their own thing, is remarkable in the highest degree.

Reason covers a lot of ground

February 25, 2009

Music Review: Reason by Monork To Die

“Spiduh Man”: I like the groove on this song. Weezer meets lo-fi rockers The Mountain Goats. “When I grow up/ I want to be like spider man” (Should I have spelled that ‘spiduh’?). Heavy distortion on the guitar – waves of grungy, garage-rock goodness. Very unfinished sound, which is fitting for them. Slight echo on the vocals.

“Vampiress”: Overall echoing sound, like it’s at the bottom of a well. Vocals here are slightly reminiscent of Creed or maybe Audioslave.

“Gloomy Together”: Slow, rolling bass and acoustic guitar. This one has a slight doom-rock tinge to it. Very heavy sound, almost overpowering in the chorus. Monork To Die doesn’t have very complicated lyrics or instrumental tracks, but it works, I think.

“France”: Kinda relaxed, laid-back sound. It’s present in the entire album, but especially obvious here. More crazy-distorted guitar. Slight dreamy sound. For chorus, something about “Tell momma I’m moving on to France.” There’s a bit of sixties vibe, maybe Beach Boys.

“Weaker”: Starts with drums and acoustic guitar; totally got a Smile Empty Soul sound going on. Raw, emotional, throbbing music. Vocalist has a bit of swagger in his voice, if that makes sense. Still got a Creed/Audioslave thing going. This song is one of the better applications of their sound and tendencies.

“Jenny Don’t Read No More”: Rhythmic guitar and bass, with vocals taking a stronger position than previously. A bit like ’90s punk – simplicity of sound, fun lyrics, etc. Unfortunately short.

“Dark One”: meh.

“Carpet Cleaner”: Borderline metal. Kinda caught me off my guard. “She’s cleaning up my stain,” cute. Much more energetic than the rest of the album.

“The One Thing Under The Sun”: Odd mix of “House Of The Rising Sun” (both the Eagles’ version and the Muse cover, if you were wondering) with southern rock.

Overall, Reason is a good album. Monork To Die has a good thing going with their music; it just needs a little more focus. I’m all for a band trying out different sounds, but not quite this much in a single album. More of the likes of “Spiduh Man,” “France,” and “Jenny Don’t Cry No More,” please.

Western Wonderful

Some music transports in the way it takes you away from whatever computer or headphones you happen to be listening from and drops you in another place. Jonathan Vassar’s seven track LP The Hours and the Days does this, from the computer screen to the saloon.

With lines like “I was born to get shot/ so I guess I won’t drown/I’ll take a chance with the water and sink right down/ Catch me if you can,” Jonathan Vassar paints a scene of an outlaw running from the man and leaves no doubt: we are squarely in the genre of outlaw country, stylistically and lyrically.

“About a Dog” introduces an accordion and the sounds of a church choir and electric guitar. These elements, along with the obscure lyrics, “Gotta see a man about a dog,” remind me in a way of Tom Waits’ “Little Drop of Poison.” They both paint a scene without ever describing it. Vassar does this throughout the album, with songs like “Knuckle Shuffle.” The lyrics allude to nursery rhymes (“I got my handle but where’s my spout”) and pair with more accordion and a western sensibility.

From ages 6-8 I listened to one CD on repeat. I can’t recall the name, but I know it included Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Baby Beluga.” Vassar’s “Turn Down the Sun” was ripped off of this CD. If it weren’t for the first line, I could close my eyes and taste the paste. “I took him by the leg and I threw him down the stairs,” it begins; that’s a snap back to reality. “Holy Roller” is wholly boring musically, but intriguing lyrically: “What you do in the dark/ will be brought to the light.”

“Arm and Hammer”, is not an oddly placed request for baking soda, but in fact rounds things off nicely, leaving us with a pretty (weird) package. It’s outlaw country with an accordion twist.

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Unfinished Mansions

February 24, 2009

Coming March 3 from Doghouse Records, New Best Friends, the debut album from the Louisville, KY/Winston-Salem, NC, group Mansions, is an entertaining release but presents a somewhat pigeon-holed view of the band.

In a world where, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, originality is not as highly valued by the masses as it once was, New Best Friends seems to fall victim to that desire to fit in. Mansions seems to be largely dominated by vocalist Christopher Browder. This album presents Browder as an extremely talented musician and lyricist with a voice that sounds like a fusion of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and blink-182/Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge. Unfortunately, the album also shows that Browder has stuck himself into the contemporary world of pop-emo. In essence, Browder just didn’t seem to bother to write any songs for this album that aren’t full of regret and sadness.
It’s okay to be happy on occasion. People like happy music.

That being said, Browder shows a lot of potential in his songwriting skills. The album’s opener, “Talk Talk Talk,” is an instantly accessible and catchy track that shows a lot of broad appeal. The same goes for “Gotta Be Alone” and “The Worst Part.” But, as stated earlier, unless Browder can climb out of the typical pattern of emo-tinged lyrics, he won’t get ahead of the pack. The lyrics on every song end up coming off as bitter or regretful. I’ve always been of the firm belief that all albums need a variance of emotional highs and lows. This album simply stays with the lows, and that is unfortunate.

Browder’s distinctive voice shines on this album and, even though his vocal style emulates other artists, it helps make the album memorable. It makes the emotions behind the songs feel authentic. If he could just find some emotional variety in the songs and put that same authenticity behind those emotions, I’m sure many hearts of many teenage girls would swoon at this guy’s voice while many music-savvy fellows like me could appreciate Browder’s obvious talent.
As the last track of New Best Friends closes, it’s easy to see that Mansions has a lot of potential. The group is highly marketable as it is and I’m sure they will receive a lot of attention very soon. For now, some more variety in lyrics would make them even more appealing.

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There's no doubt about The Educated Guess

February 23, 2009

Need a vacation? The Educated Guess can give you one. Their latest project, West Skyline Drive, not only sounds western, but is so compelling that it can actually take you there. It takes the romantic, nearly mythological ideas of the West and adds the unique blend of rock and roll with an orchestra. The result is a rich, wholly-realized, symphonic sound. And if I sound like I’m raving, well, I am. I tried to write this review while listening to West Skyline Drive (for the umpteenth time), but found that with it playing, I was perfectly content to stare at the blank page and just listen. It’s distractingly, engrossingly good.

The first movement begins (and beckons) with “1862 Overture,” a seamless blend of reoccurring motifs. Interweaving solos from the strings and brass are nothing short of gorgeous, while the twangy guitar sound and complicated, ever-changing drumming give it a modern twist. Songwriter/composer Charlie Brumley (who’s also the lead vocalist and pianist) is obviously talented, right from the beginning. The overture glides right into “Bullets,” which includes a rockin’ syncopation bit sure to toe-tap, and a thumpin’ bass line from Jon Venegoni (He also plays tuba!).

“The Ballad of Enough” contrasts catchy, upbeat music with satirical, yet thoughtful, lyrics about self-pity. It’s also great to sing along to, if you’re into that (guilty). The pedal steel guitar is featured in the next track, “Into Dust.” It gives an organic, liquid feel to the ballad, while also adding to the impressive list of diverse instruments included on the album.

If I had to pick a favorite from West Skyline Drive, it’d be “Hero Complex.” Starting with just guitar (from electric guitarist Jordan Rogers) and vocals, the orchestra and percussion then add punchy exclamations. It builds really well, up until a wonderfully full middle section that’s irresistibly danceable. “Friend from Foe” concludes the first movement with pretty guitar riffs and verses that add something new each time.

The majestic instrumental “Antebellum” sounds the most western on the album – it always make me think I’m on Lonesome Dove Ranch about to, I dunno, do something noble. The melody is explored through all sorts of timbres – a whistler, strings, and even an opera singer. “Antebellum” balances nicely with “Lullaby No. 1 (Sunset),” which lives up to its name, but without making anyone sleepy.

“A Coward’s Last Stand” displays some of Brumley’s best vocals in his low, clear voice. This song seems almost more like a poem, with its poignant images and delicate piano parts. In contrast, “Native Son” takes things back to rock and roll, especially with an energetic guitar solo from Rogers. Drummer Brian Pincus wows with his sheer technical, virtuosic skill. “Ghosts and Empty Cities” makes me think of the Dust Bowl… in a good way. There’s a clever turn of words with “I couldn’t leave behind/what was mine to claim/my destiny/did manifest.” The hopeful, almost anthemic, closer “The Ballad of Return” gives everyone their time to shine, and it concludes with a reappearing musical motif, firmly establishing the cohesiveness of West Skyline Drive.

This album is recommended for anyone who likes depth of songwriting and intstrumental complexity in their music. The Educated Guess will be playing with their Emperor Norton Orchestra around the St. Louis area this summer.

How did you get indie-pop in my math rock?

February 20, 2009

Math rock is one of those genres that is usually influenced by others.  Right now, a lot of math-rock bands have been pulling influences from post-hardcore and post-rock, and sometimes math-rock  can be indistinguishable from these genres. Well, the San Diego-based trio Fever Sleeves are here to add a little pip in the step of one of the genres that can oftentimes feel way too serious and complex to the average listener. Soft Pipes, Play On is a misleading title for one heck of a ripping album.

The instrumentals seep in, post-rock style, on the opener “Vampyroteuthis,” and suggest something that has been done before. But that lasts for all of 54 seconds or so, until the instrumentals rip open like a wildfire. The vocalist of the Fever Sleeves then comes in and it’s not that post-hardcore style that so often works in math rock, it’s an infectious indie-pop one. That’s the trick to a l0t of the Fever Sleeves songs: they work in the medium of indie-pop.

This may be one of the more accessible math-rock albums I’ve ever heard. It never drags. All of the songs average at about 3 mintues each, which is shocking compared to the usual instrumental freakouts that last upward of five minutes.   The track “Cusack”  comes as such a suprise with instrumentals that play off of very melodic vocals, and vice versa. The song could easily be a pop-fest, but the Fever Sleeve’s instrumentals take it to complex and full musical territories that indie-pop bands simply couldn’t pull off. A thrilling, refreshing listen, Soft Pipes, Play On shows that Fever Sleeves seems to be doing something that may have seemed too incredibly obvious to other bands, and doing it with fervor.

The Boxing Lesson takes rock to space

February 19, 2009

The Boxing Lesson claims to be from Austin, Texas (and I guess I believe them), but they sound like they’re from outer space. The group’s latest album, Wild Streaks & Windy Days, establishes a psychedelic, dreamy sound that remains consistent throughout.

The opening track of the album is titled “Dark Side of the Moog” – a funny name for an otherwise serious song. Paul Waclawsky’s guitar riff is head-bangable, and Jaylinn Davidson’s moog playing gives the song its otherworldly feel. The driving beat (provided by Jake Mitchell) adds a heavier rock flavor that makes this song a strong opener. Surely, there must be aliens somewhere out there, doing drugs or dancing (or both) to “Dark Side of the Moog.”

“Hopscotch & Sodapop” has the biggest pop influence on Wild Streaks & Windy Days, which is unsurprising when taking the song title into account, and therefore stands out compared to the rest of the album. It doesn’t differ too much, however, because the guitar and synthesizers keep the mood psychedelic. There is also a breakdown moment in the middle, where the fast tempo slows down a bit; this sounds more like the rest of Wild Steaks & Windy Days.

“Hanging with the Wrong Crowd” and “Dance with Meow” both have an electronica/dance feel, but, again, they still fit nicely with the other songs on the album. Probably the strongest aspect of this release from The Boxing Lesson is their ability to blend several different styles with their own predominant genre of space-rock. As a result, the album has enough diversity to be interesting, but is also very cohesive.

Waclawsky’s vocals really shine in “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” the last track. Its slow tempo gives him a chance to show off his clear, high voice, and it also makes this song sound a little like Sigur Rós. Overall, this album is recommended for Pink Floyd fans, or for astronaut-wannabes. The Boxing Lesson is currently on tour, and is coming at The Opolis next week, for all you Normanites.

Interview: Nothing More's Jonny Hawkins

February 16, 2009

Nothing More‘s new release The Few Not Fleeting is coming out this upcoming Saturday. IC writer Brian Murff had a chance to visit with lead singer Jonny Hawkins about the album and the processes behind it. The physical interview is below. Brian also compiled a video, which can be seen here: Nothing More by Brian Murff.

Nothing More has had a lot of changes in lineup. Can you tell me a little about the band’s history?

We didn’t quite get it right the first six times around, so seventh or eighth time’s the charm for us. The core of the band was always Mark Vollelunga, Josh Kercheville, and me, Jonny Hawkins. We went through bass players and singers like fast food, basically.

We finally teamed up with Daniel Oliver a little after Josh Klaus parted ways with the band. That really formed I think the real core of the band right there. Then we got Travis as our singer and released Madhatter’s Bliss, and after that, we got Trey Graham as our singer when he got off tour with Kelly Clarkson, and released Save You/Save Me. And I think Save You/Save Me was our first big push, in regards to touring, and playing with 30 Seconds to Mars, and Burden Brothers, and on the Warped Tour – stuff like that. Then things went south with our singer Trey. The whole time through all these people we never really quite felt like it was there yet, like it had sunk in and… I don’t really know how to describe it; it just didn’t have that peace.

Josh Kercheville ended up leaving the band, which was a big blow too, so that left it to Mark and Dan and I. I can honestly say I don’t think we’ve ever been happier creatively, through the writing process, playing live… I play all the drums on the album, but we hire a drummer for shows. He’s on contract for now, I don’t think I’m ready to give up all the drumming right yet, but I can say I’ve never been with somebody that I’ve been as open to the idea about potentially joining the band. He’s an amazing guitar player, drummer, writer, artist, so he brings a lot to the table.

How did you go from being the drummer to being lead singer?

I got kind of into a depression in the last year. I had a lot of stuff going on in my life with my mom and cancer, and Trey – we parted ways and it felt like the band wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I had this revelation that I told Mark one night. I was like, “I want to sing for the band.” Let me say this: first of all, my biggest fear has always been speaking in front of people. I would lose sleep in high school if I had to speak in front of the class the next day. I wouldn’t sleep the whole night! So the idea of getting in front of hundreds of people and singing was enormous. Second of all, I couldn’t sing. I was not a singer, I’d been a drummer my whole life.

I was like, I’m afraid to be in front of people and I can’t sing. That’s not a good combination for a lead singer, right? But I felt very passionate about music.

So the last year all the guys were like, “All right. Jonny, we believe in you, even though it sucks right now and you sound like crap.” I’m lucky to be with guys that… we know each other well, we believe in each other to the point of, even if it doesn’t make sense now, we support each other. And they supported me and believed in me, and I never could’ve done it if they hadn’t been there and believed in me.

Is this upcoming album (The Few Not Fleeting) is pretty big for you?

This CD is kind of monumental for us because it’s kind of our first “This Is It” CD. Not that the other CDs don’t mean a lot to us musically, but this is the first CD where, like I said with the other lineups and everything, it wasn’t quite “It.”

You’ve gone through a lot of changes. As far as musical influence goes, there was a time where your music almost had a funk vibe, and then you had a pop thing going for a while. This album feels like Shelter, but what Shelter should have been. What was that the result of?

When you watch a lot of bands, you can see them start somewhere, and then they kind of trail off and start exploring, and then they kind of go back to their roots but in a new way. We obviously all listen to so much music. There are a lot of bands that only listen to one kind of music. “All we listen to is punk rock, so we play punk rock.” Or, “all we listen to is hard rock, so we play hard rock.” We listen to jazz, to funk, to death metal… we’re very open-minded.

I think it’s taken us this many years to find out what it is that our musical soul, if you will, resonates at. Because we love playing funk! Daniel brings a lot of funk to the band, I love playing funk on the drums, but it doesn’t have as big of a portion of our heart as progressive/alternative rock like what we’re playing right now. But members are a big thing – when Trey was in the band, he brought this pop, kind of mainstream… I don’t really know what the right words are, but a little softer around the edges. We always wanted to rock, but we felt like we had to compromise, and that’s what Save You/Save Me was, was a compromise between the two things. Now it’s complete exploration of the progressive rock, harder rock direction.

Along those lines, the new record is coming out. In what ways have you made improvements on this one?

I feel like we’ve improved on the production value. This album is different from the rest because we produced the album at home in my room – half the album. With that, we had a lot of time and flexibility to explore the production side of things that we really didn’t have time or budget to do in a studio where we were on the clock, or with a producer that’s on the clock. So we really got to explore and flex nuts on the production side, if you will.

On song writing, we put more time and thought and energy and emotion into all these songs than we ever have. This year has been the hardest year of my life. I lost my mother, I lost my girlfriend of five and a half years, I lost one of my best friends in the band, lost our lead singer, had all these great things that went to nothing, you know, along with a lot of other stresses of being in debt and being on the road. It’s been a monumental year in the amount of pain that I’ve felt and the band has felt, and that’s translated I think through the music. I think the greatest things come from the greatest suffering, the greatest pain. I’d say that’s been the biggest factor through all of this.

Lyrically, I hadn’t quite gotten a grasp on this album until I read the jacket. How much of this is based on things that have happened in your lives?

Most of the songs are pretty deep. “Gone” was about my mother, “Blue And Gold” was about my friend that died in a car wreck. “The Cleansing” was about a friend of ours that got raped, “Salem” was about a very tight-knit group of friends that got destroyed by gossip and lies and all these things.

I’d been wondering about that one. Metaphorically, it’s a little bit more out there – witches, etc.

Yeah, it’s sarcastic. Well that song… I guess before I keep going on, I’ll let you know too that we’re going to release a website. There’s a thing in the album jacket that says for a deeper look into The Few Not Fleeting, go to www.nothingmore.net/thefewnotfleeting. There’s nothing up there right now, but probably in a month or two months we’ll put out an announcement. We’re going to release that website and it’s gonna be a handwritten website, very personal, and it’s going to be about all the songs and what was going on with me and my mom, or with “Salem” – what was really happening. Because it’s a quirky take on something that was very real and happening.

As far as coming into songs in a playful manner, I can’t think of one song on the album that’s not deep and real. One of my friends listened to the album, and she said, “We gotta start working on writing some happy songs.” And I was like, you know, the funny thing is that my happiness and I think the band is this way, too, is that we express our joy and happiness and all these emotions, not all positive but light-hearted emotions through hanging out with friends and very light-hearted things. But the deep, dark, very hard things in life, for whatever reason… music, that’s just what it does for me. That’s where it comes out. It doesn’t come out in other areas; it just comes out in music. So that’s why our music is dark, that’s just how it is I guess. But it’s hopeful, you know? It’s not just leaving you helpless, at least I hope not.

Okay. Now in contrast to that, you’ve got “Fat Kid.”

Wait a minute, never mind, I take back everything I said! That’s one song, there we go. I would say that it’s a slightly light-hearted, sarcastic song. “Salem” is sarcastic, but it does have a lot of angst in it. This one was more of the, “let’s write a song about Daniel, who grew up as a fat kid.” It’s like a look at me now song.

We’ve talked about how this album really feels like “It.” Do you anticipate the band taking off, or do you have any big tours lined up?

I definitely see this as a catalyst album, to our success as a band. I mean, Nothing More has been, every year, “Okay. Work, work, work, make an album, tour, here’s Nothing More, gain a bunch of fans.” Tear all that down, say, “forget that, here’s the new Nothing More,” lose all those fans, and gain new ones. This is the first one where we say, “Here we’re starting, and we’re following through with this, or we’re just going into the ground,” you know what I mean?

But this is a catalyst album. I would say the music industry as a whole isn’t what it used to be. Nobody’s selling millions of albums anymore, because music isn’t selling. But more bands are popular; it’s much more spread out. With that said we have a greater chance to reach more people, but it’s harder to make money in the industry than it ever has been. It’s a new challenge. So I guess what I’m trying to get at is yes, this album is going to be a catalyst as far as making the big bucks. I’m not quite sure yet, I can’t give you an answer. As long as we can do what we love and we can make a living at it, that’s success to us.

Big tours – we have some things in mind, we’re talking to some management in Dallas who can get us on tour with Fair To Midland. Are you familiar with Fair To Midland? That’s a potential. We’re talking to a lot of management right now, because we’ve been self-managed for a long time. We’re talking to some promotions companies to help us out. We have a lot of things in the works. I don’t have any solid tours that I can say, “we’re going to be on tour with this or that band,” but we are going to be touring the region very heavily on our own for the new few months.

What do you think your future is? Is there a road map that you’d like to be able to follow?

I would say we definitely have a very headstrong goal to do this as a career. Most people, especially in the art world, approach things with “if it works out great, if it doesn’t I’ll go do another job,” a plan B, right? We all purposely haven’t had a plan B, because we didn’t want any excuse when the going gets tough to get out of this, because we all know that deep down inside, music is what makes us happier than anything. I can’t picture myself not doing music, so that’s it. That’s my tunnel vision. I can’t predict the future, I know things change, and I change as a person, I may like different things and value different things in the future but for right now we’re dead set on making this a career and being the greatest band in the nation, if not the world one day. We have big goals, and we’re shooting for it. I’m not going to say we’re there by any means, no way, but…

Over the years of touring, performing, this whole experience, is there any wisdom you’ve learned?

We have learned what not to do a lot. If I were to pick one thing, I would say that the greatest asset we have above anything else is knowing who you’re working with and having trust. Our band wouldn’t have survived however many years as it has if I didn’t have guys that I trusted one hundred percent; we’ve been good enough people to lean on each other in the hard times. Bands freaking rise and fall like there’s no tomorrow. There have been millions of bands. It’s the highest turnover rate of any industry, I think. But knowing and trusting the guys in my band, and knowing and trusting the people we work with, is invaluable.

I’ve seen bands rise and fall based on trust, and it’s like the Roman Empire – some of the greatest bands have fallen from the inside. There wasn’t trust, or greed crept in; some little thing that destroyed a great musical thing. Happens all the time, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Know who you’re in bed with, you know what I mean?

On a slightly lighter note, what would the famous last words of Jonny Hawkins be?

You’re giving me some tough ones here. Famous last words… Is this funny last words, or serious?

It doesn’t matter.

I’d say hard work goes a very long way, but relationships are the most important thing. In business, in work… relationships are gold. I had to lose a lot of relationships to learn how much they’re worth, you know? That’d be my famous last words, hang onto your relationships.

Is there anything else you want to mention?

Just keep your eyes open this next year, because we expect great things with this album.

Rock is a Good, Good Thing

February 12, 2009

There are bands out there with a hint of retro in their sound, and there are tribute bands that try to copy another era’s groups. Somewhere in between is Underride. They’ve got a sound that is firmly based in ’80s metal, but also incorporates flirtation with glam rock of the same decade and occasional touches of ’90s grunge. It’s impossible to listen to their music without drawing similarities to the likes of Aerosmith or Guns-n-Roses.

The album opens with “Side By Side,” an energetic, driving number that lies on the harder side of their music. It quickly highlights the vocal strengths of the band with a roaring chorus from frontman Rev and smooth backups from the rest of the group. A wicked guitar solo seals the deal for this track.

Further into the album, the song “My Little Hell” stands out. Lyrics like “lower your body down/below the surface ground” and other dark references give it great character without devolving into death metal. “Riot Stick” was my favorite from the album. It’s that raucous, no-holds-barred kind of song that gets you out of your seat and rocking away with the music. Getting the listener involved is a great test for music, and Underride passed with flying colors.

One Of Us by Underride is rock, pure and simple. I had a blast listening to this album on a recent road trip. It isn’t what typically goes on my iPod, but change is a good thing, right? Is their particular brand of rock your cup of tea? Check them out and see for yourself.

Sunny Days Ahead is a bright ray of sunshine.

February 11, 2009

When someone says “Seattle scene,” my thoughts instantly jump to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and any whatever-have-you grunge band.

Flash forward to the Seattle of the 2000s, and you will find the power pop scene. In that scene, there is a wonderful band called Shake Some Action! which plays some sweet pop songs which shine like the sun in otherwise cloudy Seattle.

Sunny Days Ahead is the second album by Shake Some Action! I haven’t listened to the first, but the strength of this one makes me want to pick it up. Being part of a genre called “power pop,” Shake Some Action! is expectedly very catchy.  Now, I don’t listen to super-catchy music very often, but just listening to Sunny Days Ahead makes me think this is a wrong lifestyle choice. Catchy music is amazing because it’s so happy-sounding and can really lift your mood. It’s bands like Shake Some Action! that give me faith that there are plenty of bands out there who can craft pop masterpieces, even if they mostly go unnoticed.

Shake Some Action! seem to be drawing inspiration from the Monkees, early Beatles,  the Beach Boys…pretty much any super catchy ’60s music group. Now take the harder edge of the Kinks, and add it to some roughness from punk. And voila, you have their brand of power pop.

Shake Some Action! is hardly the only power pop band around, but it’s the only one I’ve heard.  The music style is reminscent of early R.E.M. for being so jangly and fun, probably along the lines of R.E.M’s  Life’s Rich Pageant and Green.  I’m almost tempted to call them a more fun version of R.E.M that doesn’t really mess around with all the heavy and cryptic lyrics.

This album was entirely recorded by one person – James Hall, who played drums, two guitar parts, and bass for the recording. This quite impressive feat goes to show Hall’s musical talent. For live shows, Hall has recruited a band that now frequently plays shows in the Seattle area. Now, if only they got a little bigger and did a tour which came through Oklahoma.

The album is short mostly because the songs are short. These are pop songs, and are meant to be brief and fun. The lyrics don’t really talk about anything deep, but don’t mistake that to mean they don’t talk about anything meaningful. They mostly deal with the theme that makes any pop song great: love. I would call the lyrics familiar rather than cliche.

I recommend Sunny Days Ahead to anyone looking for something poppy, fast-paced, and fun. It’s easy to enjoy as there’s not really much to wrap your head around. Just sit back and have fun!

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

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