Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Future Needs Personality or It Really Will Be History

June 30, 2009

With their first full-length release from 2007, Our Future Is History, Long Island alternative band Black Suit Youth places themselves into a place that lies somewhere between Rise Against and Foo Fighters. The Rise Against comparison comes from the band’s songwriting style, which sticks with fairly heavy guitar riffs (but not so heavy that it goes into hardcore or metal) and rapid, driving drums and bass. Singer Bryan Maher’s voice is a deep and rich baritone and as he belts out his notes, it is reminiscent of Foo Fighters’ singer Dave Grohl, hence that comparison.

All this, unfortunately, leaves the band feeling derivative but still enjoyable. The simple fact here is that, while the band has some good lyrics and some hefty guitar work, there’s not really a terribly strong sense of personality here. The main impression one gets is that Black Suit Youth, formerly known as The New York Dynamite, still hasn’t quite found themselves – despite the name change. Sure, the music is catchy and without a doubt marketable to alternative radio stations all over the country, but it just doesn’t say “We’re Black Suit Youth, this is our song.” There’s no sense of identity – the band tries very hard to stand out, but at the end of the day, Black Suit Youth’s music won’t leave enough of an impression for the band to stick in the listener’s mind. I’ve listened to the album three times today for this review and, still, none of the songs stick out in my mind.

One pitfall that many bands fall into is thankfully avoided in Our Future Is History – the tendency to write songs that sound too similar. There is a fine amount of variety here. While there may not be any genre-bending between songs to make them really stand apart, they differentiate mainly through diversity of rhythm. However, the band is so hellbent on rocking out that they never take the time to slow down, save for a few select sections. Maybe it’s cliché, but how about a ballad? Maher’s got the vocal cords for it, and writing a ballad doesn’t make anyone a pansy.

This is one band that could benefit from an experimental stage – playing around with different sounds and styles could provide a gateway to finding a real sense of identity. While they could easily get on the radio now, it seems unlikely that anyone serious about music would take them seriously.

P.S. – The album art has to be about the most bizarre I’ve ever seen. It features a slightly pudgy, tattooed dude in black pants, a studded belt and a tucked-in wife beater, with cheetah’s heads for his man boobs that are spitting lightning while his face is blurred and some kind of cherub dances on his shoulder while he’s standing in a field at sunset. Yeah, weird.

ACL Explains it All: K'Naan

June 29, 2009

I came at music from a pop-punk background. I got Relient K’s Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek when I was thirteen, and it turned me into a music fiend. From there I worked my way through emo and hardcore, back to indie-rock, through indie-pop and power-pop, through folk and acoustic pop, up towards alt-country. I mostly camp in the pop/folk/acoustic/alt-country/indie-pop area now, having left the harder stuff (mostly) behind in my casual listening. I still know enough about the scenes to review them pretty well (except for the hardest stuff), but in my spare time, I’m more likely to rock Mountain Goats or Novi Split than As I Lay Dying or MeWithoutYou.

My last post was about Hot Country, which I am ever-so-slightly dabbling my toes in. The other major genre not addressed above is rap; and I hadn’t found many good rappers that I liked, although I am open to good rap (at least, much more open than to Hot Country).

Then, K’Naan happened. K’naan knows his way around a pop hook better than loads of indie-pop bands I’ve heard. His beats are arresting, and his African influences in his music make his music simply irresistible. That’s even before he says a single word. His voice is pleasing, and his lyrics are pretty freaking stunning. He rhymes with words that I rarely even use (Kandahar, Desert Eagle, Destitute, Tenfold, etc). And he makes it all sound SO GOOD.

I may be freakin’ out over nothing; after all, I just admitted that I have little experience with real rap (you know, the type of rappers who aren’t excited because they’re on a boat). But this stuff makes me actually want to listen. I want to hear what he has to say; I suppose that’s the point of most rappers, but along the way, the message got lost.

And he has a message, for sure; he’s from Somalia, where there’s crazy violence going on. His songs address the violence in Somalia in almost all his songs, but without sounding like preaching. He flows seamlessly between topics without leaving the listener cheated.

In short, K’Naan is probably the best rapper I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if this is noobish tomfoolery, but for real. I’m going to be yelling “hey” with the rest of them at his ACL set. And maybe I’ll go listen to Chubb Rock, who guested on “ABCs”; maybe I’ll learn this rap thing yet.

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I'm a Pony, You're a Pony

June 26, 2009

The Lava Children’s self-titled mini-LP was released a couple of weeks ago. It isn’t terribly long, hence the “mini-” designation, but the five tracks they offer are a good collection of their efforts thus far. The PR blurb I received said something about their music being like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was immediately skeptical – most bands, or at least the agents that represent them, like to think that their band is unique and unlike anything else ever produced.

While this isn’t entirely true with The Lava Children, their sound is probably the closest I’ve heard to matching that claim in a while. It’s soft, ethereal trip-rock, with female lead vocals that range from barely comprehensible to entirely indecipherable, and simple but catchy instrumentals. I kept trying to think of bands that they sounded like, and then realizing what I’d come up with was nothing like their sound. Pixies? Nope, and I’m not sure why I even thought that. Joy Division, Eisley, Sixpence? No, no, and no, though The Lava Children have a little in common with each of them. I’m going to try to capture what their sound really is, so read on, sir/ma’am.

“I Am A Pony” kicks off the mini-LP with a bit more energy than the rest of the tracks. Guitar and bass bits are strong, contrasting nicely with the vocals. They (the vocals) really aren’t lyrical. You can occasionally hear words, but it’s more just tonal singing. Oh, and it’s trippy stuff, if you didn’t catch that, all echo-y and seemingly nonsensical. There’s a cool, if not strange beat throughout. It feels like one of the songs that belongs in a “caper” movie (Ocean’s Eleven, etc).

The album slows with “Particles.” It’s a load of crazy moaning, both from the guitar and from the vocalist. Everything is slow and exaggerated. It reminds me a bit of the later Beatles’ acid stuff. There are tons of effects on this song, which pair with the slower tempo to create a meandering, dreamy effect. There’s something of a dark undercurrent as well. “Troll” is similar, with a long, trippy instrumental intro. It features some interesting changes in tempo when moving between in and out of the chorus, mixing the slightly-more energetic with the dreamy. Most of the vocals sound as though the singer was on the other side of the room from the mic – far away, and a good fit for the overall tone.

“Firefly” includes male vocals in the background that aren’t featured elsewhere. It’s a good sound – dare I say better than with the lead vocalist by herself? I like the effect, anyway. It’s got the same overall sound as “Particles,” though the chorus is clear and has better movement to it. The album is finished with “The Green Word,” a song with great guitar bits and somewhat more understandable lyrics than earlier.

I would prefer to hear more along the lines of “Firefly” or “I Am A Pony” and less “Particles” in The Lava Children’s future releases. Trippy music is all well and good, but it should retain energy and purpose – frankly, trippy for trippy’s sake gets boring. This is otherwise a solid album, with strong continuity between songs. Listening to The Lava Children mini-LP in its entirety makes for a much better experience than giving the songs a listen one at a time. Give it a go if you want to experience something quite different from your usual fare. Trust me, whatever that is, The Lava Children are different.

The Dimes create memorable folk-pop for latest EP

June 25, 2009

The Dimes are a band your history professors would love. The Portland-based folk-pop group recently released an EP, New England, in anticipation of their second full-length album tentatively scheduled to be released this coming September. The EP is not lazily titled. In fact, the subject matter of each song deals with 19th-century New England. The Dimes are historically aware, to say the very least.

The first track, “The Liberator,” is a simple song full of allusions to the American abolitionist movement of the 1800s. The song sings of a protagonist—the liberator—making up for his father’s inaction, saying what others will not say, continuing the legacy of John Brown. To some, the subject matter may sound dry or trite, but the with The Dimes it takes on an almost storybook feel, as if the lyrics belonged in the mental vaults of some revered oral tradition. The vocal delivery contributes to said effect through an even-keel tonality and a nostalgic glaze. The music consists of a single, plodding chord progression serving as a backdrop for whatever quirky element The Dimes choose to feature—say, for instance, mandolin tremolo, multi-part harmonies, or a duet featuring clarinet and melodica. The song’s pieces, and the band’s sound as a whole, are seductively congruous.

The historical narratives continue in “Clara,” whose title and lyrics refer to none other than Clara Barton—native New-Englander, abolitionist, suffragist, battlefield nurse, and founder of the American Red Cross. Using a wide range of old-time instruments The Dimes craft a personal account of Clara’s battlefield heroics as told by the unnamed narrator, presumably a mortally wounded soldier. The melody is wonderfully catchy, the foremost part of a musical texture that includes lap steel, harmonica, mandolin, guitar, and a deftly-written banjo riff. The lyrics give the music a gently despairing overtone as the soldier cries out for Clara to save him: “Hold me Clara, to keep me waiting/I don’t have long.” The song’s elements come together to create a mood that is both sorrowful and solid, and the music fades away with a sort of military cadence from the snare drum, cleverly and effectively implying a funereal resolution.

What follows is a short song entitled “Ballad of Winslow Homer.” Homer was a 19th-century artist from, you guessed it, New England. As an artist Homer worked a lot in watercolors, and this ballad by The Dimes has a similar feeling to the medium: light and fluid, but, in the right hands, not lacking in richness or depth. The piece features minimal percussion and simple guitar-picking akin to that of Iron and Wine or Simon and Garfunkel. Such rhythmic minimalism lets The Dimes display their knack for tasteful accents (this song features bells) and, more noticeably, their vocal talents. In case the listener has not yet been convinced, “Ballad of Winslow Homer” features another catchy melody backed up by tight pop harmonies, as well as some light and tasteful background “aah’s.” The Dimes demonstrate their creative vocal powers best on this pop ballad.

The fourth and final piece on the New England EP is a cover of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” The Dimes’ version features a bit slower tempo and, instead of Lennon’s piano, The Dimes leave it to their reliable acoustic guitar playing to handle the harmonic structure. A minimal instrumental arrangement again pushes the spotlight on the vocals, which are arranged and executed in the folk-pop style that The Dimes excel at.

New England is well-balanced, smartly arranged, lyrically clever and exceptionally performed. The Dimes have made a memorable folk-pop EP, subtle in its sound but lasting in its impression. I ardently look forward to their full-length album. -Max Thorn

the binary marketing show escapes easy classification.

June 24, 2009

I often wonder at the sheer number and variety of genres and sub-genres. In my more cynical moments I am convinced that obscure genres are the products of a conspiracy between musicians and writers attempting to make unoriginal or unbearable music appealing to college students or habitual Myspacers. Admittedly, I fall into both of these categories, but I have never been the type of person who refers to a band with a phrase like “my new favorite post-Marxist-futurepop duo.” When my cynicism temporarily resolves itself, I realize that frenzied sub-genre creation has its roots in unique music: Bands make original and progressive music and listeners try to classify that music with the vocabulary at hand. Self-described as experimental noise pop, Brooklyn’s the binary marketing show seems difficult to place, even with hundreds of sub-genres to choose from.

Their latest album, pattern, opens with “shape of your head,” a piece that adequately demonstrates the major elements of the binary marketing show’s elusive sound. The song begins with a swirling and sweeping soundscape—a mix of electronic drum samples and acoustic percussion, a short, bell-like loop that seems to have escaped from Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, and ethereal choral voices—that gives way into a more driving drum beat and what one later recognizes as their signature guitar sound. This guitar sound, an element in most of the album’s tracks, is especially striking in “la boheme,” where the guitar picking exudes solitude, like a post-modern interpretation of the musical score from an old Western film. The guitar playing is minimalistic, thriving on repetitions of a scant riffs, its clean sound colored by just enough reverb to hint at deliriousness.

In fact, “minimalistic” is an apt adjective for the entirety of pattern. Many of the songs are built around the repetition of a particular loop or musical theme, and the overall arrangements are sparse. Acoustic drums are relegated to simple timekeeping and the use of the snare drum is rare. Minimalism is especially noticeable in “white template,” a song that moves the listener into, out of, and through an unearthly soundscape of tom patterns, electronic noise, and repetitive guitar picking. On this track Bethany Carder’s vocal delivery reminds me of Alanis Morissette, if Alanis were more indie and bothered and had better music to sing over. Some songs, such as “628 hertz,” contain only one lyrical phrase, plaintively repeated throughout the piece. Even the album title itself hints at the band’s affinity for minimalistic compositions.

The band also has an impressive ability to make seemingly incongruous elements hold together, although only barely. It is not uncommon to hear harp loops, harmonica, bells, dub-style horns, and synth drones. “trust and candor” begins with a quick ukelele chord that quickly cuts into a breakneck conga loop layered with bird sounds, mariachi-style trumpets, acoustic drums, and the idiosyncratic vocals of band members Abram Morphew and Carder, whose vocals play share space on nearly every track. My favorite song on the album is “fear,” a folk-pop tune that starts off with a church organ dirge and choral vocal layers. But the song heads up-tempo and its catchy melody is backed by a ukelele sample. The whole piece rises in energy, its zenith a sort of restrained angst.

The precarious arrangements certainly warrant calling the binary marketing show an experimental band. However, they are akin to other great experimenters—Grizzly Bear, Modest Mouse, Talking Heads—in that their eccentricities make them engaging and captivating. It is when the songs are barely holding together that I find myself being held rapt by the songs. The music begs a critical ear while at the same time also rewarding trance-like listening.

So how does one classify the binary marketing show? Indie-Experimental-Electronic-Minimalism? Really-weird-but-endearing-and-sometimes-powerful? Yes, those all work. Although, more simply, how about: “really good”?

Buy it here. -Max Thorn

I Love It Almost as Much as I Love Pie (and More Than I Love Cake)

June 23, 2009

Pie>A Love Like Pi>cake

 

A Love Like Pi’s album Atlas and the Oyster is a buzzing, beautiful electronic/punk/rock jumble of joy. Danceable, rhythmic, and interspersed with surprises, the album coasts along in all its synthesized glory. One song flows seamlessly into the next. Pair that with the fact that there is a cohesive theme (that which can be sensed smashes against the mysteries of the universe results in myth. It’s the themes of John Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning in an album) and the sweet album cover art, and you have a band that’s ready to explode into the mainstream.

 In the words of the editor-in-chief, “It’s a mix of everything on the radio right now.” Think rhythmic, like that ear-worm of a song “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas; synth-tastic like Lady GaGa; catchy like Katy Perry; and vocals like Panic at the Disco. It’s electronic for the rock enthusiast, The Killers with more obvious synths or Motion City Soundtrack with a chorus of computer-like sounds layered in. And if that’s not enough references to illustrate their sound, I would suggest you go listen. Actually I would strongly recommend you go listen anyway. Right now. So if you’re still reading this, you’re wrong. If you’re still not listening I’ll tell you this: there’s harmonica, a trumpet, and a touch of violin. Go forth and love it. Three stand-out songs to get you started: “Innocent Man,” “Young Men,” and “My Body.”

 

-Emma Richardson

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ACL Explains It All: Zac Brown Band

June 22, 2009

Even though I live in Oklahoma, listening to its radio stations has always been problematic for me. They come in five types: Rap, Hot Country, Oldies, Christian and Top 40. The Top 40 station isn’t bad, since the Top 40 has recently been filling with techno-influenced everything (which is great, but another essay).  The Christian station isn’t too bad, but the smarmy to non-smarmy ratio fluctuates with the varying seasons (during release season? not smarmy! during fall and winter? smarmy!). Rap I avoid. Oldies I listen to, but there are a lot of commercials. But anything, and I mean anything, is more palatable than listening to Hot Country.

Chuck Klosterman has a whole section of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs dedicated to Hot Country and how he dislikes people who dislike it, because they dislike it on principle as opposed to on sound (or something thereabouts; I’m oversimplifying). I am not that guy. I dislike Hot Country because it’s oppressively the same. The old joke about playing a country song backwards and getting all your stuff back? Yeah, that got turned into an actual country song. It’s like unironic irony. Not only are there not new themes in Hot Country (honestly, there’s not new themes in any music, except maybe space-rock, but I haven’t heard any ballads for Pluto’s new lack of planet status, so I’m planning judgment there, too), but they don’t even try to use new language.

For instance, Zac Brown’s “Chicken Fried” talks about the best things of home, and you can probably guess what they are: fried chicken, cold beer, blue jeans, his woman, his kids, him mom, and America. Not kidding, there’s a verse about the military and the awesomeness of America. I am not opposed to this, but I swear at this point there’s a songwriter somewhere who should be able to sue for copyright infringement. Or twelve.

The unique part about the Zac Brown Band is that I actually like them. They’re Hot Country; there’s nothing alt about them at all. But they’re talented musically, and they’re good songwriters. I actually listened to “Chicken Fried” again when it finished. They’re a really great pop band that happens to be playing in the Hot Country genre, with Hot Country conventions (steel guitar, violins, vocal twang, etc).

I’m not sure if this means that all the Hot Country bands I can’t stand just aren’t very good pop bands, that they are just more energetic than I can stand, or if they’re more country than I can stomach. But either way, the seal is broken: I like a Hot Country band. I don’t think I like them to the point that I’ll be hitting up their ACL set, but maybe in a few years I’ll be donning a cowboy hat and drinking a Natty Light at the Wormy Dog.

Okay, I still got shivers. Not there yet.

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Suckers Are Anything But That

June 18, 2009

Have you heard of Suckers before? No? Well now that I’ve got you here, no more excuses. They’re a New York-based band with some serious talent and a sound that’s something like Polyphonic Spree mixed with Louis XIV and Franz Ferdinand. A lot of diverse instrumentation is one of their strengths; in fact, each one of them plays multiple instruments. Quinn Walker plays guitar, keyboard and floor tom; Austin Fisher plays guitar, sampler, and keyboard; Pan is on bass, trumpet, and sampler; Brian Aiken plays drums and keyboards; all four of them sing. Vocals are strong, as is the rich song composition throughout. Their self-titled Suckers EP was recently released on the IAMSOUND label, so no time to lose! Here’s what I thought of the EP:

The EP opens with “It Gets Your Body Movin’;” this is the one that immediately made me think of the Polyphonic Spree. The pace is laid-back, with main and backup vocals, a strong trumpet part, with background keyboard and drums rounding it out. In my notes, I described this song as, “happy music.” I know, I’ve got great insight. Now you know exactly what the song sounds like. The ending has strong character, with a sweet whistling bit that everything else is slowly layered on top of. First guitar, then shaker, then drums. The song builds continuously in instrumental until the vocals make a comeback. It’s very powerful stuff, borderline anthemic in its nature.

Next up in the playlist is “Beach Queen,” with a fun keyboard and percussive intro. Guitars, then vocals make an entrance, the whole time maintaining a fun, light tone. It’s got a catchy rhythm and vocals that at times made me think of Queen or Louis XIV. This song is great fun – the bass has a funk groove going on, keyboard is rhythmic and repeating the same, “do, do-do, do-do” phrase, and high-ranged vocal chorus gives it wonderful tone.

The last two songs are slower, perhaps less exciting than the opening pair, are musically more complex. “Afterthoughts & TV” seems almost wistful and nostalgic in its tone. It breaks into a higher tempo for the chorus, “We’ll find a simple way to talk / we’ll find a way to turn it off.” Throughout, you’re treated to gorgeous harmonizing on the vocals. Like on “It Gets Your Body Movin’,” the brass influence of the trumpet is an awesome addition (full disclosure: I used to play the trumpet. Never was any good at it, though). Rounding out the EP is “Easy Chairs.” The song has a flavor not unlike that of the Shins, but it’s definitely still suckers. This song makes me wish that everyone in every band could sing well – the depth and variety it adds to their music is staggering, especially given how talented these guys are. Here there’s some falsetto, on that part they’re doing a four-part choral bit. I can’t get enough of that stuff. On a side note, bass was much stronger and more exposed in this song than the others, and I loved it. They probably could have and should have had more moments like that.

I try to maintain at least a marginally-professional tone when writing, but I’ve got to say this now: I absolutely love these guys. Their style is a great mix of the easygoing and the energetic. I’m not completely sure how that’s possible, but it is. The vocal parts really set these guys apart, and extras like the addition of trumpet, tom, clapping, and whistling are nice touches. The Suckers EP is a rockin’ good time, no doubt. If you want to listen to a little of their stuff, I’ve got a handy-dandy link for the “Easy Chairs” music video. Also: for those of you in the south-central part of the United States, let it be known that Suckers will be at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. I can’t wait to see these guys in concert. Oh yeah: buy their EP.

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Austin band Built by Snow coming to Tulsa, bring catchy keyboard pop

June 16, 2009

Built by Snow, a band hailing from Austin, Texas, describes their music as “catchy keyboard indie pop rock with an explosion of velcro melodies and magnetic hooks that hit your brain like an Atari blasting out of a bazooka.”

“Whoa,” I hear you readers say. “That band sounds like they would be fun to see live.”

Luckily for you, said group Built by Snow is on tour this June and they will be playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday June 15 at Soundpony Bar at 10 p.m.

This particular show is especially exciting for band member Matt Murray, who grew up around Tulsa.

“This will be my first show back in my hometown!” Murray said.

The four-piece Built by Snow is currently working their way up to the NXNE Music Festival in Canada, playing shows on the trip there and back. This is their first big tour, although they have played out-of-state gigs.

“We’re gonna be covering a really long distance compared to anything we’ve done before. It’s exciting!” said band member JP Pfertner.

The group also recently released a new album called MEGA in January.

“It’s kind of like plugging your brain into an 8-bit Nintendo. Then plugging guitars, vocals, and rock and roll in at the same time,” Pfertner said of MEGA.

Concert attendees can expect a very high-energy, fun performance, with lots of instrument-swapping between songs.

“We move around and sweat quite a bit. Sometimes we might look clumsy on stage when we’re all jumping around, but it’s all under control… sort of,” Pfertner said.

The group met one another at a local Austin TV station where they all work, and have been playing music together for about 3 years. But music was a major part of their lives even before Built by Snow.

Pfertner said that music runs in his family.

“My uncle even invented an instrument called ‘the hamatar.’ It’s crazy – two guitar necks stuck together pointing opposite directions. It allows one person to play two guitars at the same time. It was 80′s excess at its best,” Pfertner said.

Murray does not have quite the same familial claim to fame as “the hamatar,” but said that he also became interested in music at a young age. Murray began taking piano lessons at 11, only to quit, fall in love with guitar, and then get back into keyboard again.

Tulsa residents, check out Built by Snow this Monday at Soundpony Bar next to Cain’s Ballroom. The complete Built by Snow tour schedule is available on their myspace.

Beacons of Post-rock: Tortoise

I’m writing this review from Xishuangbanna, a region in southwestern China. It sits along the Mekong river, not very far from the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It’s hot, humid, and currently raining almost every day – monsoon season and all. You know how it goes. Anyway, the general attitude is very laid-back, not so much lazy as unwilling to move fast in the heat. I like it here. I like sitting here and drinking chilled mango juice, and I like listening to Tortoise’s new album while I’m doing it.

Beacons of Ancestorship is the name. It’s out June 23rd, fully five years after their last release. This thing has been a long time coming for fans of the band, and trust me, there are lots of them. Quick history lesson: Tortoise is a hugely important band. They’ve been around a while. Back in the early 1990s, they helped to create what is now known as post-rock. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it boils down to music that isn’t rock, but is played on rock instruments. It’s primarily instrumental, and almost always experimental. I like to think that post-rock bands don’t create songs, so much as things that grow and develop as the music continues. If that sounds silly, go listen to some music from the likes of Explosions In The Sky or Slint. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

That being said, Tortoise is a little different. It’s the like the guy that’s so far ahead of the curve that nobody knows what he’s talking about until five years later, and suddenly they understand. Or maybe they don’t. They pull from lots of different genres, showing influence from the likes of jazz, progressive rock, and a liberal dose of electronica/techno. Their sound is synth-heavy, along with electric guitar, drums, and bass.

The album opens with something of a bang. “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” has a great intro – drums and bass give it a very alt-rock feel initially, which then gives way to synth that feels more like Daft Punk. The entire time layers of sound are meshing, moving from dissonance to resolution and back again. The song has a great beat to it, especially with the synth. It feels much more energetic and lively than your typical post-rock. It’s fun… part funk, part electronic, all post-rock.

“Northern Something” has a percussive intro, followed by some intense synth. It’s possibly one of my favorite parts of this album yet. There’s definitely some techno/trance influence, and trust me, it works really well here. Beacons of Ancestorship has an energetic quality to it that is imminently danceable, which is pretty cool. This song has something of a Latin influence to the rhythms employed, and it works really well with the ever-present, buzzing synth. The track was over too soon, if you ask me. I would’ve taken more of that stuff. There’s no stopping these guys, though. On to the next track!

One of the major features of Tortoise’s sound is blending different styles together. In “Gigantes,” you’ve got a sweet guitar bit that works well against energetic drums; it’s jazz meets trance/electronic meets post-rock. “Penumbra” is something of an interlude that starts out sounding like videogame soundtrack, then adding some kind of retro 1940s-Hollywood dreamy bit in the background, and “de Chelly” layers synth on top of a mellow organ track. Like so many bands of that genre, they are a little difficult to describe, tending to mix genres and styles at will. Effects are numerous and varied. This album is an experience, to say the least. There aren’t any lyrics, nothing that you can sing off-key in front of your friends, but that’s probably a good thing. Nobody wants to hear you sing anyway.

The wildest song of the album was “Yinxianghechengqi” (the name, if you’re curious, is some run-together Chinese). This sucker has some of the heaviest and hardest distortion of anything else on the album so far, and it’s on, well, everything. Except maybe the drums. Not sure how you would go about adding distortion to them, but I digress. This one is rowdy, a bit spastic, and sounds like the kind of music I imagine Salvador Dali might have made, were he a  musician and not a painter. It’s loud,  a little overwhelming, and exciting because of it. The level drops off at just the right moment, leaving you with a sort of haunting, minute-long echo of what was going on just a second before. Brilliant.

“Charteroak Foundation” rounds out the album with a dark, foreboding tone at the beginning that’s absolutely delicious. Add in in bass and drums at a different tempo, and the tone completely changes. These guys are the masters of unlikely fusion. Extra, higher-pitched synth falls in on top of everything else. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the stuff of genius.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Beacons of Ancestorship isn’t exactly what I would describe as pop music. You’ve got to be into this sort of thing to dig it, or at least open-minded with regard to your music. If that’s you, awesome. Enjoy this thing. Not sure yet? We’ve got a link to a free download of “Prepare Your Coffin”, as well as a music video for the song, so give Tortoise a listen while you go about your business today.

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

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