Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick hits: Kidneythieves

February 18, 2011

I would be interested to hear what a Kidneythieves live set sounds like. Even though their modern rock draws liberally off industrial rhythms and nu-metal guitar tone, the arrangements and production serve the vocal melodies first and foremost. Which sound would get top billing in a live set? Is it still a rock song if the pop melody is the point? Does it really matter?

Actually, yes. Because as a set of rock songs, this feels pretty tepid, in that the heaviest hitting parts of the sound are turned down to make sure that the vocals cut through effectively. But as a set of really aggressive pop songs, this album works nicely. Free Dominguez’s mid-range female vocals contrast neatly with the distorted backdrop, making her voice stand out.

The songs here are all well engineered; the drums and guitars are crisp and clear (even when they’re mega-distorted). Dominguez’s voice is also commendably recorded; there’s no knocking any performance and/or recording method here. But it really comes down to this: Did you like Evanescence? Are you excited about the idea a muscled-up version of that sound? If so, you should get Tryptofanatic right here. If not, there’s other stuff to check out.

Hoodie Allen drops polarizing music video for "You Are Not a Robot"

February 17, 2011

Hoodie Allen has by now pretty much surpassed Chiddy Bang in my book as standard-bearer for the indie-rock sampling rap subgenre. Yes, Drake and Chiddy have higher profiles, but Hoodie Allen just does it better.

He just dropped a video for “You Are Not a Robot” off his mixtape “Pep Rally,” and it’s a pretty polarizing little video. Check the comments to see the effects its had on his listeners, which range from “U ROCK LOLZ FO REEL” to “What the fuck was that?”

It is a bit strange. It doesn’t exactly make sense, as a bunch of kids dressed as robots chase Hoodie under the auspices of catching him and presumably making him a robot. I won’t ruin what happens, but Wes Anderson is smiling somewhere, I think.

Worst comes to worst, you’re reminded of Hoodie Allen, and that’s never a bad thing.

Shade creates indefinable but majestic rock tunes on 'Latonka'

February 16, 2011

Shade’s Latonka defies easy classification. It is some sort of rock album, but it’s hard to pin down anything further than that. The album is very moody and emotional, but it tugs at the heartstrings through the brilliant intertwining of the melodic and rhythmic parts instead of dramatic builds and falls. The mix seems on first listen to be all out of order, except that on second listen it becomes clear that their mixing decisions make the album’s mood.

There are heavy, shoegaze-inspired guitars, but they don’t overpower anything. There are fast-paced drumbeats, but this isn’t a punk band. There are yelps and cries, but this isn’t any over-the-top emo band. This is a band that knew exactly what it wanted to accomplish, then went and did it.

Enough of what it isn’t. It is an incredibly emotional ride, as well as a completely unique one. It draws liberally from the best parts of post-rock, shoegaze, indie-rock, pop and even modern rock to create an amalgam that is distinctly Shade’s.

A repeated, wordless cry fading into the heavy guitars of “Chain” makes the song a haunting memory long after the tune is through. The desperate vocal performance of “Plans” contrasts against the relative calm of the arrangement in the verses; that is, before the band flips the song into a cavernous shoegaze tune for the chorus. They alternate the two for the whole song, just to mess with listeners.

The other seven tunes hold joys of their own; I would be depriving you of the joy of discovering them if I told you more. This is an album to let wash over you. It is an experience. Definitely one of the most interesting and memorable releases I’ve heard so far this year. Check out Shade’s Latonka if you’re a fan of post-rock, emotional hardcore or music that’s heavy in more than one way.

Quick hits: Rachael

February 15, 2011

Polish garage rockers Rachael dropped onto my radar with their EP I Bet You Like Drugs Instead of Sex. Having left nicotine out of the named vices, they titled this EP Add a Little Bit of Tobacco. And just as it continues their penchant for vices in titles, it continues their garage rock sound.

But there’s a little bit more psych and stoner going on in their grungy sound this go-round. “Burn Slowly and See” is appropriately titled, as it does just that. It’s drum and bass heavy, resulting in a very low-slung, almost metal-esque track. “Grass” is a bit more on the paisley psychedelic side of things, which is an odd transfer. “Like a High” introduces some slap bass and a funky attitude to the proceedings, but spends most of its time in a space between the stoner rock and the woozy psych of the first two pieces.

The piece de resistance, though, is “Watchsick,” which takes the psych and stoner leanings and synthesizes them into something greater than the whole. The track grooves, but not in a dance-related way; it rocks, but not in an especially heavy way. It sets up a mood and just wears the heck out of it for four minutes. It’s easily the best track here, as it is Rachael at its most distinctive.

Psych/garage fans will find much to enjoy in Rachael, including the pricetag: free. Pick it up here.

Quick hits: The Devil's Sunday Best

February 14, 2011

The Devil’s Sunday Best is a acoustic-based pop-rock band from California. Their Time Bomb EP features incredibly solid songs but lacks a cohesive flow. The band packs ska, adult alternative, rockabilly, folk and peppy guitar-pop into the release, but without meshing the genres: Each genre gets one song. And while the demo is beautifully recorded and played excellently, it’s easy to wonder what type of band The Devil’s Sunday Best actually is. The members are pretty good at all of these genres, but they don’t seem to have an idea picked out of what type of band they want to be. Thankfully, with a talented vocalist, solid musicians and songwriting chops, this band can go somewhere if it picks a genre or two and camps out. Right now it’s just a bit scattershot.

Independent Clauses' Top 10 of 2010

February 13, 2011

Because I’m perpetually behind on CDs, I only get done with a previous year’s music in February.

10. Fort Orange — After the Fall. Basically, this is what I want all punk albums to sound like: furious, aggressive, short diatribes that make use of melody, rhythm and rage.

9. We’ve Built Up to NOTHING — 500 Miles to Memphis. Takes country-punk and pushes its boundaries out in all directions.

8. This Cage Has No Bottom — The Ascetic Junkies. Folk and indie-pop get mashed up in the most delightful way.

7. Ithica — Ithica. This genreless amazement is the second-most emotionally powerful album of the year and the best concept album.

6. Faithful Fools — The Damn Choir. Best lovelorn acoustic tunes of the year; it’s hard to beat a broken heart, an acoustic guitar and a cello.

5. Best of the Bees — Mansions. A jawdropping set of cast-off tunes that set up Mansions as the next Bright Eyes in terms of prolific nature and brilliant tunes.

4. Lost and Found — The Fools. Stark, beautiful acoustic tunes from two girls.

3. New Home — La Strada. Takes folk and bends it all around through world music and indie rock, producing jubilant, complex tracks that never bore.

2. Our New Life Above the Ground — Avalanche City. These are the acoustic-laden pop songs I wish I could write. Stomping, clapping, mandolin, melodies, harmonies, toms, just everything good is in these songs.

1. Sever Your Roots — The Felix Culpa. Hands down the best album of the year; nothing else even came close to approaching its masterful take on post-hardcore. The brilliant lyrics pushed it over the top.

Dana and Lauren drop a country cover of a 2Pac tune. No, I'm not kidding.

February 12, 2011

Dana and Lauren play standard modern country with one twist: there’s a cover of “California Love” on their self-titled, four-song EP. Yes, the one by 2Pac. They do it up country, with banjo, fiddle and bass. It feels very, very surreal. It’s cool, but that’s only after a few times of hearing it. The first time it feels way out of left field. Way.

The rest of their EP is solid. “Song to My Heart” gets a bit campy for my taste, but “Chasing Trains” is upbeat and radio-ready.  The best track is the ballad “Dreams are Fireflies,” which recalls the best of female country singers in the verses. The chorus gets a bit saccharine, but what did you expect with a name like that? If you like hot country, you’ll like this. If not, not worth your time.

But srsly. You need to hear “California Love.” You’ll thank me later.

Broken Poets surprise with a unique sound

February 11, 2011

Broken Poets‘ four-song, self-titled EP is an interesting breed. It opens up with what seems like a very familiar formula: after a 50-second atmospheric intro, a forcefully but quietly strummed guitar comes in with a chord-heavy piano. It sounds like the intro to every modern rock song ever. The vocalist comes in, and he’s got the aggressive pipes of a rock singer. I was ready to dismiss this.

But the chorus hits, and the band doesn’t kick it into overdrive. In fact, they never do. This is a band that consistently sounds like a modern rock band doing acoustic covers of its best songs. It’s a very peculiar sound that my ear had to get used to, because I’m conditioned after years of modern rock to expect the power chord chorus.

So, that’s a plus in Broken Poets’ pocket right off the bat: they mess with conventions. They had me listening intently the entire first song, waiting for what I thought was the inevitable. Never happened; the closest I got was some ghostly vocals and distant electric guitar to close the tune. Wow. That’s “Singularity.”

Turns out there’s only two members in Broken Poets, and this is the type of music they want to put out. The band plays with preconceived notions of intensity and songwriting in the beautiful “The Clairvoyant,” which ends up being a highlight. To say this is restrained is not exactly right; it feels restrained because I expect something else from where they lead me.

Broken Poets have a singular vision that they are accomplishing well. They don’t sound like anyone else right now, and that’s really cool. It’s an unusual sound, but it produces beautiful songs and unique arrangements. Check it out, for sure.

Youth Sounds create blissful pop songs

February 10, 2011

Youth Sounds‘ 10-minute, three-song EP The Bit Parts is the sort of pop music that makes me remember why I like pop songs. There’s nothing here that’s especially groundbreaking: mid-range female vocals sing over a soundscape that’s half Spiritualized and half pop-rock. But the band goes at it with such enthusiasm and with such feeling that it’s hard not to like it.

It helps that the production is gorgeous. I’ve become more and more interested in production as grotty lo-fi bands have become popular again, and everything here is praiseworthy: The acoustic instruments sound perfect, the consistent drone sounds warm and full instead of grating, and the vocals sound real instead of tweaked. It makes the hushed beginning of “Smoke and Mirrors” resonate, while the majority of “As Strangers Would” hums for the same reason. “What Is It Like” is a bit too ’80s in places, but other than that it’s beautiful too.

I can’t wait to hear more from this band. They have a solid grasp on what they want to do and the production to back it up. This is the type of music that causes me to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and bliss out.  There’s not enough of that in the world.

And so it's pow! pow! pow! pow! pow!

February 8, 2011

LCD Soundsystem is breaking up. I never got to see them live. I am so sad. The announcement and subsequent mourning sapped all my creative energy. Sorry, guys. New review tomorrow, I guess. If I feel better.

“Drunk girls know that LCD Soundsytem is an astronaut; it comes back, but’s it’s never the same…”

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

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