Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Autoexciter doesn't exactly excite

October 30, 2009

After nearly five years since their last full-length album, 2009 plays host to a new album from the band Skychief. Based out of Akron, Ohio, Skychief is the kind of band you would expect to discover at Warped Tour.  The new album Autoexciter is a testament to this with 13 tracks of hard punk rock.  Of the 13 tracks, 75% of the sound is generic.  While the songs are not necessarily bad, the majority of them won’t leave a memorable tune in your ear.

After nearly a decade of playing together, the four members of Skychief have created an album that shows influence from bands such as Kiss and Smashing Pumpkins.  Also noted is the resemblance to the earlier days of Blink 182 on tracks like “Desire.” Although lacking some of the clean and developed sound of Blink, Skychief has two vocalists that play off each other well on the tracks.  However, the vocals focus more on the “scream-singing” style and suffer from occasional pitch issues.

An interesting addition to the album is the song, “Naughty is Nice.” The song begins by channeling classic rock vocals that exude a more mature sound than the garage punk vocals of tracks like “10 Hours.”  The last minute of the song goes into a short speech set to a rock instrumental, and it actually works for them.  Following up on the inventiveness of this song could be the key to help Skychief break away from common rock clichés in the future.

There's Folk and Punk in Clock Hands' Stranglehold

October 29, 2009

Clock Hands Strangle suffered from a peculiar syndrome when I was reviewing this album. I enjoyed this album so much that I put it in my car and started listening to it like I would if it were an album that I purchased from a record store. But when I do that, I don’t think about things like “when I need to have it reviewed by” and things of that nature. Hey, we’re definitely not pros here at IC. Only here will producing a fantastic album actually delay your review. Sorry.

But Disticatti is an incredible album that deserves the words I’m about to lavish on it. It’s a folk/punk album, and the punctuation is chosen particularly. It’s not folk-punk, where the folk has a whole lot of punk strumming and attitude (O Death comes to mind) or folk punk, which is a punk band playing folk instruments (The Violent Femmes, for example). This is a band that plays folk and punk in equal measure. Continue readingThere's Folk and Punk in Clock Hands' Stranglehold…

Shelley Short produces pure Americana

October 23, 2009

Shelley Short‘s A Cave, A Canoo provides a clear distinction between Americana and folk. The acoustic-based music that Short plays is the type that you would expect to find in rural backwoods and Appalachian trails. It’s fragile instrumentally but strong lyrically. It’s very distinctive and unapologetic about this; it is what it is, and that’s either its selling point or its sticking point. It is truly Americana; no other place could have produced this album.

It’s hard to describe this album without sounding trite, because the it’s not what she does but how she does it that makes this album worth your time. There’s some gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar, some auxiliary instruments (grumbling cello, creaky violin, twinkling piano, etc), and her delicate, distinctive voice. She doesn’t stray far from this formula, other than the “Interlude,” which is made to sound like an a capella vinyl recording. It’s kinda weird, but endearing.

“A Cave” shows off her piano skills and impressive melodic content, as it is the most memorable track. Even when she shifts to piano, her gently rolling style transfers over perfectly. These songs all have a lilting gait that makes them incredibly pleasant to listen to. “Racehorse” seems to waltz gently by the listener’s ear, while the live-recorded hiss of “Tap the Old Bell” creates a feeling of security and honesty in the song. The greatest deviation from this is “Hard to Tell,” which is accompanied by an accordion. Even though this is not out of the tradition at all, it’s still feels almost roaring next to the gentle acoustic ballads and piano offerings that precede and follow it. It’s still a wonderful song, but it is a bit jarring the first time it appears.

In short, this is a true-blue Americana album. It suffers a bit from having a slow pace throughout, but the ease of listening almost entirely redeems that fact. If you’re a fan of folk, Americana, or great female singers, this is for you. Incredibly enjoyable.

The Black Heart Procession creates a masterpiece

October 22, 2009

I should have known that a band which calls itself “The Black Heart Procession” would be more than a little bit morbid. Somehow, I was still surprised at the amount of death that crowds into the proceedings of their latest album Six. Even more surprising, though, is how incredibly gorgeous this album is, totally in spite of its subject matter.

Yes, from “Suicide” to “Heaven and Hell” to “When You Finish Me” to “Wasteland,” this is a pretty dark album. If you’re not a fan of Nick Cave, Tom Waits or other macabre artists, this is not going to be your cup of tea. Even with piano and strings leading the way through this lush album, it’s tough to get through if you’re affected by such gloomy notes.

Now, if you enjoy or tolerate moribund musings, this album is absolutely necessary for your collection. This is easily one of the most beautiful and engrossing albums I have heard this year. It’s nearly an hour long, and it holds attention for every second. The low male vocals are smooth and powerful, sucking the listener in. It’s like Tom Waits but without the warbling pitch issues, or Johnny Cash without the bite. It’s enticing. There’s a contrasting high male vocal as well, and that works perfectly in the context of the music.

And in that music, The Black Heart Procession has created a perfect backdrop to the engaging vocals. From the plucky strings and shakers of “All My Steps” to the dark guitar pop of “Witching Stone” to the weeping piano of “When You Finish Me,” the members have created a perfectly flowing album. None of these songs are the same; some have distorted guitar, some replace the guitar with an organ. Acoustic guitar plays lead occasionally. But the mood that Six has stays the same throughout. It is the soundtrack to a pondering walk through a cave of poignant, sad memories. The mourning here is genuine; there is not a drop of saccharine anywhere in this album.

This is not an album of singles; this is a fully-realized album project. The Black Heart Procession has created a masterpiece with this album – there’s just nothing to knock in it. If you are a fan of depressing music, this is a must-buy. You will not regret the purchase, although you may encounter some of your regrets as you listen to this album. It’s the type of album that will cause introspection. Simply astounding.

The Psycho Nubs fall short

October 20, 2009

Once in a while, something comes across my desk and I just don’t know what to make of it. That was definitely the case with Alley of the Ignots by The Psycho Nubs.

This duo from Richmond, IN,  made up of Brandon Owens and Nich Shadle, is simply bizarre. The music is a mix of garage punk with a sort of high-voiced bubblegum pop that I found to be completely inscrutable. I’ve listened to the album several times, trying to determine what it is that I find so off-putting about this album.

First, I tried looking at the music. Instrumentally, the band is very solid. They follow a tried-and-true pop-punk formula that, while not entirely original, definitely works well. It’s hard to critique Owens’s or Shadle’s individual musicianship, since they both play guitar, bass and drums and sing for this album. They both show competence in this regard.

Then, the I realized the vocals were grating on my nerves. The band sticks with a high-pitched, wavering style somewhat reminiscent of Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes (a band that I really don’t like). That, combined with lyrics that seem to be trying to be witty and funny without quite pulling it off, make for music that I simply found annoying. Not all the songs are that bad, but many of them are.

I will admit, I really did like the song “PBR Me.” It’s catchy and it’s about one of my favorite social beers, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged.

All in all, I simply couldn’t get into Alley of the Ignots. I’m sure fans of Of Montreal and other bubblegum pop bands might find stuff to enjoy in here. It wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not for you.

Said the Whale gets an A, said the reviewer

October 19, 2009

From what I’ve heard that’s come out of Canada, I have yet to be disappointed. Well, except for maybe Avril Lavigne. I’ll narrow the category: folk-influenced indie from Canada can’t seem to go wrong. And Said the Whale from Vancouver doesn’t break this reputation.

Islands Disappear is the quintet’s second full-length album, released October 14. It ranges from gorgeous, picturesque acoustic ballads to more up-tempo, danceable electric numbers, but all have a certain (Canadian?) quaintness that keeps the album cohesive. Even the harder, grittier songs still have a bounciness to them. Part of this charm can be attributed to the harmonies, sometimes inter-gender, that saturate Islands Disappear. Somehow they capture the essence of cute without crossing the line into cutesy, a fine line that’s easy to cross.

These harmonies are instantly wooing in the lovely opener “Dear Elkhorn,” a song about getting lost that is easy to get lost in. (See? I just crossed that fine line into cutesy.) Another gem is the album’s single, the high-spirited, fun, and absurdly catchy “Camilo (The Magician).”

Throughout Islands Disappear, I’m reminded of the vocal lines of The Format, the sunniness of The Shins, and the quirkiness of The Decemberists (a compliment). But Said the Whale doesn’t sound too much like any of them, incorporating their own special sound in each song. For example, the guitar sound in the electric songs is distinctly different in each. And they’ve also incorporated ukulele in several songs, a move I love for several reasons. Personally, as a very amateur ukulele player, I love to hear it being used well in good music that’s not from Hawaii. And this aside, the instrument has a lovely and unique timbre that doesn’t get taken advantage of often. Listen to Said the Whale’s “Goodnight Moon” if you don’t believe me.

Really the only downside of this album is that some of the songs can get repetitive, but this is always due to lyrics and not the music itself. In the grand scheme of Islands Disappear, this factor hardly makes a decisive impact. This album is still very much recommended for adding a youthful diversity to anyone’s music collection.

The National Rifle Aims at Creativity

October 16, 2009

What do Twilight and a band called The National Rifle have in common? Would you be even more confused if you found out the answer is 100 Monkeys?  Before you start getting frightened with the image of vampires, rifles, and a hoard of wild monkeys, you should know that 100 Monkeys is the band of Twilight star Jackson Rathbone.  The National Rifle is the up-and-coming band who opened up for them on their Twilight Lexicon Tour.  Undoubtedly, The National Rifle is grateful for the exposure to hundreds of vampire-obsessed tweens.  Fortunately for the band, their unique sound could probably stand alone even without the association of this pop culture phenomenon.

The inventive sounds of both The National Rifle and 100 Monkeys make it clear why the two bands would complement each other well for a tour.  It seems likely that the artsy, sometimes “emo” kids that dig vampires would enjoy the unusual conglomeration of instruments and melodies that make up The National Rifle’s signature sound.  Similar to bands like RX Bandits, this Philadelphia-based band combines punk rock with clever jazz and indie influences.

Man Full of Trouble is the National Rifle’s third release since 2006.  This 5-track EP, released in fall 2009, showcases an incredibly distinctive sound that grows stronger with each track.  The rough yet rhythmic vocals accentuated by the poppy female back-up tracks create a colorful experience for your senses.

The first track, “It’s Just Whiskey Momma,” seems to be the weakest on the EP.  It is by no means a bad song, but it does not fully represent the more mature sound in the songs that follow.  In many ways the first track gives a misleading garage punk feel, despite the fact that the other songs include more indie or jazz-influenced rock appeal.  The influence of so many genres on one EP is what separates this band from the hundred of others in the indie/punk world.

One of the most enjoyable aspects on Man Full of Trouble is the inclusion of both the sax and flute.  Perhaps the best songs are “I Think I Have a Tumor” and “Bad News from the District.”  There is a pleasant retro throwback feel to these tunes that would suit a big city club scene well.  “I Think I Have a Tumor” has a fantastic break down and sax solo that you would not normally expect from a “punk rock band.”

The lyrics are nothing short of blunt and seem to reflect the stereotype of life through a punk rock lens.  In the song “Big Units,” the lyrics state, “Everybody fights, then drinks at night/Gotta fall in love, to just get by/Give up again stay home in bed/ We’ll just get old, and that’s the end.”  This seems pretty fitting for the struggling life of many Americans today.

For an up-and-coming band that’s still not signed, it seems that The National Rifle is gaining the success and recognition that will lead to a successful future.  Word on the street is that they would love to be included on the soundtrack for third film in the Twilight Saga, Eclipse.   But then again, who wouldn’t ?

Bravo for Victor!

October 14, 2009

Victor Bravo upholds the myth that all you need to make rock is a couple guys, some instruments, and a garage.  Forget all of the computerized and technological enhancements of today’s commercially successful music.  With obvious influence from bands such as Nirvana and Hüsker Dü, Victor Bravo’s latest album, Hammer Meets Fire, doesn’t disappoint.

Since 2006, the Brooklyn-based band has been pleasing the ears of punk and garage rock fans alike.  The addictive, angst-filled tunes of Hammer Meets Fire fulfill everything that the New York club scene has become infamous for.  This album embodies the anthem of punk, obvious from various track title such as: “Scary Mary,” “God Bless the USA,” and “Motherfucker.”  The vintage vocals combined with quality musicianship make the band worthy of getting out of the garage and into your ears.  Favorite tunes include “Into Debt,” and the first single off the record, “Jagged Cross.”

The listener won’t be able to help but imagine a room full of sweaty bodies hurling themselves around in rhythm to the songs.  The simple yet hilariously angry lyrics will make you crack up or reversely, give you the urge to punch a hole in the wall. Either way, the record is a fun listen.

Per the FTC

October 9, 2009

So, new regulations came out for bloggers this week (but not for anyone else: newspapers, magazines, etc) about what we do and don’t have to say to avoid an 11,000 dollar fine.

What we have to say now: we get all our records for free to review. People send them to us, in hopes that we will review them favorably.

If you’ve read us for any amount of time, you’ll note that we often run bad reviews, because (duh) we’re not getting paid off by the freebies we get. We need them so that we can (duh) write about them. Because if I had to purchase every album we reviewed, the math would look like this: (4 albums x $10 + 1 EP x $5) x 46 weeks = $2070/yr.

(I’m allowing six weeks’ worth of days where we fail to post things)

If you multiply that out by 7 and allow for some positive variation, that’s almost $15,000 dollars over the life of this blog. Seeing as I am a college student, I’ve never even made $15k in a year, much less $15k off this blog. In fact, there’s no advertising on this blog. It’s totally free. Totally, totally unbiased, which is (I guess) what the FTC wants.
If we factor in the two editions of a print magazine that we ran (FTC: does running two versions of a print mag make us a print mag? or are we a blog again?), I’ve lost money on Independent Clauses. Full disclosure for the win. You readers aren’t getting faulty information while I get rich, because I’m not getting rich. At all.

In fact, I run this partly as a service to upstart bands (who need press quotes), partly as a service to my writers (who need resume fodder), partly because I really enjoy writing about music (whoa, what a concept) and THEN as a service to readers (sorry guys, but you really do come in fourth in my mind).

Also, I like folk best. I figure that should be disclosed while we’re making disclosures. And I hate grindcore. And hot country. And government intervention.

There. No fine for us. We’ve disclosed everything free.

Oh wait, my roommate bought the orange juice I drank this morning. I’m favorably biased toward him.

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Clawjob gets academic in latest concept EP

October 7, 2009

It takes guts and bravery for a rock band to choose to make a concept album. Concept albums are ambitious and usually not as accessible for new fans. They oblige listeners to pay attention and engage in a different way – namely, by requiring that their brains interpret the music instead of their emotions or unconsciously-tapping feet. And this is to say nothing about a concept album which takes its themes from the 19th century.

Clawjob, however, has the guts and the bravery (or maybe the craziness) to do just this. Their latest release, the EP Manifest Destiny, includes songs about events that you may remember from your high school U.S. History class. But one thing is certain: your teacher didn’t represent history in the cynical, dark way that Clawjob interpreted it.

Manifest Destiny opens with brash and moody distortion right away in “The Era of Good Feelings.” The lyrics taken out of context sound sunny and almost cheesy: “new technology/ and brand new frontiers can civilize the West/ we can do what we deem best/nothing can stop us now.” But when these words are matched with distorted guitar and synthesizer, and sung in an entirely unconvincing way, their meaning completely changes. It is very quickly understood that this so-called era of good feelings is, to put it lightly, perhaps not the most fitting name for the time period.

For example, the next track, “Slice Me Up,” is about battlefield surgery in the Civil War. Seriously. This song is much more energetic than the opener, and its herky-jerky style is reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand (which is another historical reference, come to think of it). But despite its heavy topic and troubling lyrics, you’ll still find yourself intoxicated by the driving guitar riffs. And definitely check out the comic-book style music video of “Slice Me Up” on Clawjob’s website.

Other topics include The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872 and the Industrial Revolution. And all throughout these subjects in Manifest Destiny there’s a feeling of sinister sarcasm, or it’s just downright troubling. That shouldn’t scare any potential listeners off, though. This EP has obviously been carefully crafted and planned, and its offbeat and different approach is interesting in itself. And, if nothing else, maybe Clawjob’s Manifest Destiny could serve as a history lesson.

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

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