Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Giants

December 10, 2012

Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.

I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among GiantsTruth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.

Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.

Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.

They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”

For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.

It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.

Emily and the Complexes throw down some singer/songwriter-esque rock

December 6, 2012

If you make art about brothers, you’ve pretty much got me. The Darjeeling Limited, “Murder in the City” by The Avett Brothers, and “Brother” by Annuals are all way up in my list because of my own two brothers. (I just finished talking to one of my two brothers before I wrote this.) So when I found that the opening track of Emily and the ComplexesStyrofoam Plate Blues is named “Brother Don’t Wait,” I was hooked.

It helps that “Brother Don’t Wait” is a beautiful tune, strummed quietly on a solo electric guitar. Tyler Verhagen’s evocative tenor can barely contain his emotions as he encourages his brother to move on with his life after a difficult breakup. Its simple, but it’s powerful. This highly emotional, spartan sound doesn’t appear again until the album closer “Andy.” “Andy” is even more raw lyrically and musically, closing the album on a beautiful, wrenching note. If Verhagen’s got a solo project kicking around, I really want to hear it.

I like the sound of the rest of the album too, just not as much. The majority of this album is Verhagen and his bandmates throwing down rock’n’roll that sounds like a cross between Bright Eyes and a ’90s slacker-rock band. Verhagen inhabits the no-motivation, nothing-to-do stance in most of these lyrics, seeing travel as a way to escape all the ills that befall him. From “Social Skills” to “I Don’t Wanna Brush My Teeth” to “Would You,” Verhagen writes the slacker effectively.

The music fits in a loud, grungy mode, with lots of distortion. But this isn’t really riff-driven rock; it’s powered primarily by Verhagen’s voice, just as with much of Bright Eyes’ work. There’s even a hint of country in the way the lead guitar plays. This leads to dramatic soft/loud juxtapositions (“Would You,” “Styrofoam Plate Blues”) as well as more straightforward tunes (“Pillar of Salt,” “Two States Away”). Still, at no point does the band lose the vocal line in the instrumentals. This is a rock band that wants you to know what they’re saying.

The album is named after its most memorable rock track. The band starts off the tune with a dreary, dreamy, slow-paced section before snapping to attention with some rigid, sharp rhythms. The guitars and drums work together to accentuate the heavy rhythmic qualities of the song, creating a powerful tune that is more than the sum of its parts.

Styrofoam Plate Blues features some incredibly memorable tunes in two different styles. It never strays far from its singer/songwriter roots, even when rocking out; this makes for a unique, fun listening experience. Recommended for fans of emotive, vocals-centric rock’n’roll.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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