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Month: December 2009

On Real Life and Work

Sometimes real life gets in the way of things we want to get done. This is what has happened. I’m about to graduate college (hallelujah!) and I’m frantically finishing up everything. This has let IC go downhill a bit. But it’s only twelve days until college is no more, and time returns. With that, IC will return in force. Thanks for your continued support of Independent Clauses.

Tonight We Ride enthusiastically rocks you.

The guys in Tonight We Ride are awesome. They’re the type of guys who have at least two hundred thank yous (including seventeen bartenders, who get their own section), thank people twice, give people nicknames in their thankyous, and stick a picture of Montana in the corner of the booklet with the phrase “Ya’ll can f*ck off we’re from montana.” I feel like I would be friends with these guys, and hearing their album Of the West only confirms that.

That carefree, fun-loving character shows through in their music as well. This is a bar band (if you didn’t catch the subtle clues from the first paragraph); imagine the Hold Steady at a hoedown with less piano and a lot more hollering. But instead of the disaffected cool that the Hold Steady cultivates, Tonight We Ride has a much more enthusiastic take on life. There’s hollering and shouting kicking off and closing several tracks, most notably “Heaven Can Wait.” It’s the attitude of goofy pop-punk bands like Last Tuesday, but applied to a much more rock aesthetic.

And that rock isn’t the hardest of rock, because this is a bar band, not a modern rock band. It’s pretty great. It’s the type of music that endears a listener to it. The imperfections of vocal tone are a great thing as opposed to a terrible thing, because it feels so real and honest and fun.

The highlights here are closer “Cash Money,” “Drink Myself into Oblivion” and “Prelude to Hell on Earth.” The first two are rollicking bar tunes, suitable to be sung along to with beer in hand and bros around. The third is a different turn, with their hoedown mentality traded for a Spaghetti Western mentality. It’s an instrumental track, and it sounds great. It’s apparently the prelude to a concept album about 2012 that is forthcoming, which has me incredibly excited.

In short, Tonight We Ride is awesome. If you like fun, energetic, enthusiastic rock’n’roll, Tonight We Ride is here to kick you in the pants and make you like it. You might just end up thanked in the next album as Joe “We kicked him in the pants and made him like it” Smith. Highly recommended for fans of Hold Steady, Last Tuesday, Riverboat Gamblers, etc.

Inhale Exhale makes memorable metal riffs and rhythms

I was in a really schizophrenic band in high school that featured a art-school guitarist, a jazz-minded pianist, a pop-loving bassist/vocalist, and a double-pedal metal drummer. We made strange music that I still enjoy listening to. Each of them introduced me (the pop-loving bassist/vocalist) to new musical idioms, some of which I still love (Sigur Ros? yes!!) and some of which I have abandoned (toleration is all I’ve got for most orchestral music). One arena that I had not returned to until recently was metal.

I’ve had a few metal albums pass through my life in the four years since Tragic Landscape unofficially disbanded, but Inhale Exhale‘s Bury Me Alive is the first that I’ve reviewed in I don’t know how long. I approached it with trepidation. But as I listened to Bury Me Alive more and more, I was struck by several things.

The guitar work is surprisingly melodic on top of the furious song structures, and it’s surprisingly rhythmic and melodic. The song structures themselves don’t often rely on straight-up chugga-chugga-chugga rhythms; the band progresses beyond that. “Condemned” features a complicated rhythmic pattern in the guitar strum and drums that held my interest the entire time.  “A Dark Place for Your Mind To Be” features similar strange rhythmic patterns, as well as some neat guitar effects that I really enjoyed.

Another aspect of Inhale Exhale’s sound that I enjoyed was the amount of lead guitar work. The slew of different riffs on “Did You Ever Have a Touch to Lose?” are strong enough that the song becomes a highlight strictly on the strength and excellent placements of the riffs. “Explosions” also features some excellent guitar work.

The vocals here are low-pitched screams, but not growls or roars. There’s a significant amount of sung vocals, but their use is not one of Inhale Exhale’s better ideas. There’s nothing wrong with the vocalist, but the most generic moments on the album come when they hit the power chorus section of a few of their songs and let the vocalist rip. It’s not bad, it’s just boring. The best use of sung vocals is on the calm, jazzy melodic interlude “Better Her Than Me”; the song’s verses are built for singing, and they work great. The chorus ratchets up into power chorus mode, and it’s not so awesome. But the verses of “Better Her Than Me” show that Inhale Exhale is capable of writing and performing quieter music effectively, should they choose to do so.

Inhale Exhale’s Bury Me Alive features engrossing songwriting, strong rhythmic quality, and engaging lead guitar work. It’s clear that Inhale Exhale has a particular vision after listening to Bury Me Alive, and that clarity produces a focused, entertaining album.

Aaron Hale plays some beautiful, simple Christmas songs

The talented Mr. Jacob Furr sent me a message the other day encouraging me to check out Aaron Hale. Mr. Hale had released a little Christmas EP, and it was going for the low, low price of free over at his website. Being a fan of Christmas, free, and things Jacob Furr recommends, I immediately went. I was excited to hear the calm, folk sensibilities of Aaron Hale come through my speakers minutes later.

Aaron Hale’s Hark! The Christmas EP features one original [“Good News! (For Everyone!).”] and two standards (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “The First Noel”), all played on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a plaintive voice. Hale’s voice is simple, unadorned and beautiful. His acoustic guitar playing is the same. Even when other instruments join the party, even when a choir joins the mix (!), it sounds intimate and humble. The highlight is “The First Noel,” which is sounds simply gorgeous in the stark version that Hale plays. The humming at the end of the song really captures the unashamed dignity of this release.

The original “Good News! (For Everyone).” is excellent as well; instead of trying to write an epic Christmas song that will end up in the Great American Songbook, Hale wrote a great folk song that has Christmas words. It’s catchy, its chorus is “Glory to God in the Highest!”, and there are sleigh bells. What else could you ask for? It’s going on my Christmas music list, along with the other two songs on this EP. You should definitely check out this little EP if you like folk, Christmas, or Christmas songs.