Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Gold Beach / Cartography / Vayizaku

May 22, 2012

The rock of Cartography‘s Rasputin 7″ combines elements of post-punk, post-hardcore and garage rock for a fascinating amalgam. The title track starts off at a garage rock jaunt with vintage ’00s devil-may-care vocals before breaking down into a post-hardcore half-time section; then it takes off into a melodic section with a shuffling drumbeat and a straight-up guitar solo. Totally not kidding. The whole thing is pulled off with composure, maturity and melodic flair; there are vocals, but they’re only there when they need to be. The same is true of the singing in b-side “Shasta,” which starts off in profoundly melodic post-rock mode before jumping into a more garage-y state. But it’s never the snarl and gasp of The Vines or the Hives; Cartography is much too poised for that. I suppose some would see that as a detractor, but it does nothing but impress me. The vast amount of influences drawn on and referenced make me want to hear more from the band. Cartography does what it wants on Rasputin, and what it wants is completely great and worth following closely.

Gold Beach‘s self-titled EP fits into the serious indie music vein that The National and Bon Iver have made a career out of, combining the weighty arrangements of the former and the high vocals of the latter with burbling synths to create an engaging listen. The six songs create their own world for 23 minutes, and whether or not you want to inhabit their mood should be decided by what you like your pop songs to do for you: this skews much closer to art than “Call Me Maybe.” “Skin of Yours” showcases their sound best, while the driving “Diving Bell” is another highlight. These Austinites get gravitas, and so those in favor of serious music will find much to love.

Vayizaku‘s We’ll Always Remember owes a debt to snotty late ’90s/early 2000s pop-punk, best characterized by Blink 182′s 2001 gem Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. The best tracks here are the ones that most closely follow the Blink formula: focus the mix on two male vocalists (high and low), mix in hyperactive drumming and thrumming bass, then cap it off with absurdly catchy choruses. “Electric Gravity” sounds like a lost Blink track from that era, and since Vayikazu pulls it off with gusto and no wink, it’s good to go in my book. “Memory” even includes Blink’s signature “nanana”s, in the only tune where they go overboard on the touchstone (and they go way overboard). But the rest of the tunes are just fun: The fast/slow/fast “My Jubilee” is lyrically a quintessential punk rock love song, while “Someone Get Me a Delorean” is one of several songs that uses piano for melodic effect. There are a few tracks that don’t quite connect, and some will complain that it’s too close to its forebears, but I think it’s a fun, entertaining pop-punk album. Definitely check out “Electric Gravity” if nothing else.

Young Readers win over a romantic with heartfelt, intimate tunes

May 21, 2012

I’ve gone to three weddings in May, so I’ve been thinking often about wedding music. Even though pop music has been infatuated with infatuation for as long as it’s been alive, odes to the type of committed love that marriage is intended to foster are hard to find. Even songs that are ostensibly about everlasting love do not necessarily merit wedding performance. It takes an incredibly rare sort of song to convey the intimacy and vulnerability of married love, unless you’re Ray LaMontagne–and then every song can pretty much fit.

Early Iron and Wine tracks had the intimacy down as well; and it’s somewhere between those two artists that Young Readers’ Family Trees falls. Yes, those are huge shoes to fill, but the near-reverent beauty and fragility of “All I Have” and “Naked” leave me in the same state of mind as the work of those songwriting giants. Both songs are gentle, expansive tunes that create a distinct mood without a great deal of musical elements. “All I Have” uses a steady acoustic guitar strum to imbue an elegant string section and Jordan Herrera’s quiet voice with a gravitas enviable by LaMontagne. When a choir comes in for the climax of the tune, it sounds positively revelatory. The lyrics are perfect for the sound, as Herrera nearly whispers, “If all I have is you, then the rest is okay.” It’s going on my “song of the year” list for sure.

The sparse, slow fingerpicking of “Naked” recalls Iron and Wine immediately; since Sam Beam doesn’t make ‘em like that anymore, this is a wonderful thing to be bestowing upon the world. And it does feel like this song is a gift. The songs are so intimate that it feels like Herrera is cracking open the door for me to see into a corner of his life that he doesn’t show to just anyone. The fact that there’s almost no build to “Naked” over its nearly-six-minute duration just impresses me more: there are few people who can write six minutes of sparse fingerpicking as engaging as this.

The rest of the tunes are solid as well. “Wooden Frame” retains the wistful romanticism of the aforementioned tunes despite being more upbeat, while “Blame” is another bedside confessional. “Boxcar” is a swaying tune that evokes the feel of traveling in the lyrics and music.

Jordan Herrera has created more immediately lovable music in 25 minutes than many bands make in a lifetime. Family Trees is a gorgeous, heartfelt EP that will command your ears and heart. I haven’t heard a better release all year, and I eagerly anticipate more material from Young Readers. If you’re a fan of romantic, honest music, you need to download this. And it’s free. What more can you ask for?

Download “All I Have.”
Download “Naked.”

Quick Hits: More Than Skies / Nonagon / The Woodrow Wilsons

May 7, 2012

I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I posted. Crazy times. Here’s a bunch of quick hits to clear my slate and get back to lengthy reviews I am such a fan of writing.

The fractured melodies and herky-jerky energy of Good News-era Modest Mouse meet the moody ponderousness of Tom Waits’ work in More Than SkiesI Am Only Above The Ground. The lyrics are far more positive than either party is accustomed to writing, making the album a unique experience of positive-to-wistful lyrics led by a raspy singer and backed by an enthusiastic band that often breaks out into group vocals. Instrumental chops abound (“Introduction,” “The One Who Wanders Is Not Lost”) and the melodies shine (“Life Declines at Twenty-five,” the title track), but it’s the exuberant “We’re Getting Older” that will stick in your mind and heart. Highly recommended for fans of a full-bodied folk sound that’s still raw and real.

Nonagon‘s People Live Everywhere EP offers up technical post-hardcore that’s big on dissonant melodies, tempo changes, odd time signatures, and shouted vocals. The unusual juxtaposition of guitar lines in opener “Vikings” should tip you off that this is loud music to appreciate with your brain as much as your body. You can definitely mosh to it (the dissonant “Fresnel Lens,” the manic “The Swifts”), but it’s the atypical rhythms and melodic ideas in “Fadeout” and the aforementioned “Vikings” that get me. Nonagon’s working at a high level here.

The Woodrow WilsonsDevil Jonah focuses more on mood and arrangement than hummable melodies, making their acoustic amalgam much less of a traditional “folk” album and more of a chamber-pop album. “I Love the Atlantic” is a beautiful tune that experiments with tempo and arrangement for effect, while “Anthropomorphics” is a jubilant tune with a horn chorale in it. Songs like “The Ocean is Rising to Meet You” and “Heat” play with the conventions of songwriting to great effect. Male and female vocals lead the band in turns, only lending more variety to the album. The highlight is the tense, emotive “The Size of My Fist,” which calls up what Andrew Bird might sound like if he had an interest in conveying emotions. On the whole, fans of The Decemberists and old-school Sufjan Stevens will find much to love in The Woodrow Wilsons.

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

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