Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Meridene's confident songwriting produces stellar pop tunes

August 27, 2010

While I fancy myself a person quick with a good word, I have two compliments that are reserved for the highest order of appreciation. The first is that of “intensely reasonable.” This combination of mercy, fairness and kindness shows itself when someone has the ability to royally screw someone over (legally, justifiably, and/or otherwise) and for some reason chooses not to. The second is “he knows what he’s about.” Mental clarity that produces focused action is incredibly impressive to me because of how rare a quality it is. Meridene is a band that knows what it’s about.

And because Meridene knows what they’re about, the songs they write come off with a confident swagger that draws listeners magnetically toward the songs. Meridene’s not-unfamiliar sound falls directly between the four-on-the-floor guitar anthems of Jimmy Eat World and the perky, quirky indie-pop of Ra Ra Riot. Despite not picking a niche genre (chillwave? witch house? we are making this up as we go, apparently), their precise musicianship, inescapable melodies and near-perfect pacing make their sophomore album Something Like Blood into a must-listen set of songs.

Those three elements are most evident in “Parade of Fools,” which is somehow not the first single (If you’re reading, Meridene: this had better be the second one). The song is a stick of dynamite; lit by the first solitary drum hits, the fuse burns closer and closer to an explosion as the band ratchets up the intensity of the song. The jagged but not abrasive guitar work teams up with the galloping drums and consistent bass to push the song forward. The keyboardist, playing two different keyboards at once, reins in the mood. The vocalist, singing in a pleasant tenor that fits well into the sound, spits lines about wives and husbands in denial that each are cheating on the other.

The fuse draws close to the end, and the band drops down to a piano so they can crescendo to the lighting of the fuse. While Meridene doesn’t seem like the band to go nuts and thrash about on stage (at least according to their YouTube videos), the last thirty seconds of “Parade of Fools” give them every right to. The up-until-this-point melodic vocalist loses it, raggedly screaming “And we wouldn’t have it any other way!” in a completely throat-shredding way. I’ve heard hardcore screams that weren’t as adrenaline-spiking. The band, responding appropriately, goes absolutely ballistic for the last thirty seconds. I’ve listened to it probably twenty times, and I still get goosebumps.  It is on my shortlist for song of the year, with Frightened Rabbit’s “Not Miserable,” Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” and The Tallest Man on Earth’s cover of “Graceland.”

Because Meridene is a band that knows what it’s about, it tackles the other eight tunes on Something Like Blood with the same reckless abandon, albeit in different ways. The Death Cab for Cutie shuffle of “Bible Belt” uses lyrical power as its killer element, and it works. “Juliet, They’ll Eat Us Alive” crescendoes from a solitary, pensive guitar and voice elegy to a full-on band and choir blow-out that ends with the vocalist dissolving into distant, undiscernable screaming. Again, the sparing use of the scream turns it into an absolutely mind-blowing effect. The desperation and intensity pent up in the last minute of “Juliet…” are fearsome and beautiful.

Meridene pulls everything they do together with brilliant touches. “A Man of Faith, a Man of Fact” starts out with an a capella performance that morphs into a marching band collision. “Everyone’s Waiting” kicks off the album with a bang and a dance-rock vibe. “Gone, Baby Gone” drops in sleigh bells to the mix and supports that quirk with one of the band’s best group performances. Each member contributes a significant element to the success of the tune, and it feels completely satisfying for that reason.

Meridene’s Something Like Blood reminded me why I like reviewing music. There really are diamonds in the midst of all the rough.  The band’s brilliant pop tunes are confidently written, intricately arranged and passionately performed; in that way, they’re a lot like Jimmy Eat World. There’s no catch to JEW; they’re some average guys writing good songs, over and over. Meridene does that too; they just have three dudes and a girl, as well as having way more variation than Jimmy Eat World. If you’re not all over “Parade of Fools” and “Juliet, They’ll Eat Us Alive” by the time you’re at the end of the album, you can stop reading this website, as our musical tastes just don’t align. Meridene is performing at the very top of the indie-rock heap, and I sincerely hope that this is their breakthrough album. They know what they’re about, and that’s attractive – as well as conducive to great songwriting.

Hear “Gone Baby Gone” here.

The latest plan

August 13, 2010

You don’t need much more than two eyes to realize that things have been slow around here. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is this: My personal life has caused me to be stressed out of my mind for the past month. When I get stressed, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write.

So, to get things rolling again at Independent Clauses, I’m going to write stuff that I don’t consider to be work. I’m going to go through the top five/ten/fifteen/twenty/who knows how many bands on my Last.FM and write about why I love them so much. It will not be hard to write about the Mountain Goats, Sufjan Stevens or Bleach; that is the precisely the point.

So, to get my brain moving in the music-writing direction again, I’m going to be writing about the Mountain Goats next time I sit down to write. I don’t know when that is, and I’m not going to force myself into a schedule. It will come when it comes. Here’s to hoping I get back on track.

Moonlit Sailor gives "Hope" to all fans of instrumental post-rock

August 5, 2010

There’s a whole world of people out there; no one can meet everyone. And it’s impossible to form deep connections with every one of the relatively few people we meet. To make matters worse, there’s no way to guess when and where the next deep connection will be found. But when that deep connection is found, all is forgiven. All the frustration is worth it, because this new person is so great.

If listening to music is like meeting people, then “Hope” by Moonlit Sailor is my new best friend. Moonlit Sailor’s 2009 instrumental post-rock album So Close to Life has many treasures on it, but none compare to the bliss of “Hope.” The song is so gripping that I can guarantee you I’ll still be listening to it in ten years.

Moonlit Sailor’s instrumental post-rock skews to the pretty side of the spectrum. They love clean guitar lines, soaring melodies, melodic bass work and acoustic guitar, which is unusual for the genre. They have much more in common with Unwed Sailor than they do with Mogwai. “Hope” is the epitome of their sound.

The tension-heavy intro, full of cymbal splashes and pensive piano flourishes, gives way to a solo acoustic guitar playing the beautiful main chord progression. Then, in an absolutely brilliant moment,  the whole band gleefully crashes back in at full speed and intensity. My jaw dropped the first four or five times I heard it. The only way the song could be more gleeful is if someone shot off a confetti cannon at exactly the moment they start up and let the colors rain down as the band tears through the song.

The band keeps playing through various iterations of the main melody, getting heavier and heavier as the song goes along. They keep building tension on top of tension, only letting a little bit of it go at each “chorus.” This makes the final payoff much more gratifying. The final time around, the drums are pounding, the guitars are wailing away, and the piano is twinkling is an incredibly satisfying way. After all, they’ve nailed it: the whole thing sounds exactly like what I believe hope sounds like. It is absolutely my favorite track of this year so far, and it wasn’t even released this year.

Moonlit Sailor doesn’t just bring the power on “Hope.” They know how to set up a tune and build it slowly, as only one song here drops below the 5-minute mark.  “Landvetter” is a more pensive piece, but it retains an energy that doesn’t let it get mired down in mope. “Sunbeams” has a wonderful wide-eyed feel to it due to the simple yet powerful melody. “1994” falls between the glee of “Sunbeams” and the thoughtfulness of “Landvetter” to create an incredibly beautiful song that would not be out of place on a Sigur Ros record.  The enormous synth moment at 2:30 of “1994” creates an ethereal, uplifting mood that simply reminds me of a higher plane.

There are a couple of songs that drag on So Close to Life, but they are inconsequential compared to the number of tunes that pay off many times over. This album is an absolute must for all lovers of post-rock, especially those who like crescendos, tension and epic moments. Moonlit Sailor loves that stuff, and they give it to their listeners in spades. “Hope,” “1994” and “Landvetter” are simply some of the best tunes I’ve ever heard in the genre. Highly recommended.

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

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