Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Milo's Planes / Honningbarna

June 8, 2013

6827-milos front

So, I allude pretty often to my pop-punk roots. I don’t cover it too much, because I mostly stick to the tried and true of my youth, but every now and then something smacks me upside the head and says, “COVER ME.” Milo’s Planes, everybody.

The British punk two-piece is a thrashy, trashy, somehow-still-melodic delight. The hooked me with melodic guitar and bass lines, then amped my interest up by bringing in hollered/distorted vocals, thrashy drums, and mega-distorted background guitars for “Blank Canvas.” By the middle of the song, it feels like the whole thing is going to dissolve into a massive trainwreck; then it resolves into a wicked bass groove … before actually dissolving into a mishmash of distortion. It is absolutely glorious. The rest of the four-song I’ve Lost My Voice Already makes tweaks to this formula, from the more recognizable song structure of “Inhalers” to the frantic pop blast of “The Day We Almost Made It Home.” This is sludgy, lo-fi, emphatic, personal, wild punk, and I love it for that. You know who you are. Go get Milo’s Planes.

Hon-300x300

And now, for something even farther outside of what I usually cover. By way of introduction and confession, I harbor a gigantic crush on Refused’s “New Noise.” I am cool with the rest of The Shape of Punk to Come, but I get shivers every time I hear Dennis Lyxzén yell, “CAN I SCREAM? YEAH!” I can’t listen to it when I run or I will injure myself by pushing myself too hard. True story. Honningbarna‘s Verden En Enkel at times sounds just like Refused, and I absolutely love it.

Honningbarna knows it’s got dues to pay: opener “Dødtid” has a similar run-up intro before the lead singer screams out “AHHHH!” and the band comes crashing in. (Honningbarna sings in Norwegian, which sets them apart from their Swedish forebears.) AFI, who inherited some of Refused’s sound, is an apt marker for Verden En Enkel as well; Honningbarna can throw down crushing guitars, but they also never saw a group-yelled chorus that they didn’t like. The band’s motives seem more to motivate than destroy eardrums, as the rocket-speed riffs of “Fritt Ord, Fritt Fram” and “Fuck Kunst (Dans Dans)” show a punk band with sonic debts rather than a purposeful recreation of 2000s-era hardcore. They also employ the punk technique of including children’s vocals at several points to make counterpoint the dark mood. At their very AFI-est, Honningbarna sounds like it should be on tour with Davey Havok and co. right now: “Offerdans” has a rapidfire vocal delivery, pounding drums, and an awesome bass solo that would fit perfectly on Sing the Sorrow.

So if you’re into dark, noisy, hardcore-inspired punk, then Honningbarna needs to be on your radar. They really know what’s up when it comes to crafting strong songs out of aggression and melody. I will be running to this album for a while.

Hey Anna / Jenny Dragon

June 7, 2013

pompette

I’ve always been a big proponent of seasonal music. If I can’t get it to stop raining here in Texas, I can at least listen to summery sounds. Hey Anna‘s Pompette EP is just the thing to tune up my rainy days. The quintet, which includes three sisters, has packed just about every upbeat, happy thing possible into these four tunes: perky high-hat percussion, bouncy bass work, zooming synths, major-key guitar chords, and twirling top guitar work. It seems to be scientifically engineered to get in your party mix. More evidence: the single is called “Dance Until Three,” and “Superglue” is about kissing. If you can’t have fun while listening to Pompette, this blog is probably not a good fit with your musical interests. I expect to hear a lot from this band in the near future, because they’re just a blast to hear. Rock on, Hey Anna.

jennydragon

Trading in the summery for the sultry is Jenny Dragon. The six-piece Americana band features two lead female vocalists and a serious love for 1930s-50s radio on A Fair Souvenir. The all-analog (!) recording sounds pristine in its sound quality, but that’s just the front door. Once you get into the songwriting, there’s a ton to enjoy. The band sticks with traditional songwriting styles and motifs, creating tunes that will appeal to fans of The Ditty Bops. “Be That As It May” has a perky jump in its step that makes me want to get up and dance, from the guitar strum to the attitude-filled double bass (!). The very next tune, “Slow Ride West,” shows off their ability to write a slow, sentimental tune that would be perfect for a slow-dance at a sock hop. (It also shows off the double bass, which I am thrilled about.) So if you’re into vintage-style songwriting led by classic female vocals, A Fair Souvenir by Jenny Dragon should be in your corner.

The Zs: Teen Daze/Kazyak

June 6, 2013

teendaze

As I have written before, I loved and still love chillwave. I love the idea of optimistic, beautiful music that is unsullied by vocals. I love vocals, but the idea that we can have happy music that is also musically challenging is just wonderful. (It’s also why I love Fang Island.) Teen Daze‘s The House on the Mountain is about as good as I can imagine chillwave (or whatever we’re calling it these days) can be.

Single-named producer Jamison takes small melodies and builds them up with fluttery background synths, flowing guitar, and gentle beats to create deeply moving electronic pieces. Blissful is the word I would use to describe opener “Hidden,” but the low-end piano inclusions on “Eagles Above” puts a more pensive spin on the sound. “Classical Guitar” benefits from some great midi synths (as opposed to atmospheric pad synths), a heavier beat than usual and (yes) the titular instrument. While leaning toward the gentle euphoria of “Hidden,” it still forges its own path. (Is it heresy if I say it sounds like Owl City a bit? I swear it’s a compliment.)

The lead single and semi-title track “Morning House” combines the best elements of all three tracks, as it takes a unique rhythmic beat and melds it to atmospheric synths in an optimistic key. Fluttery synths and midi synths come in, giving a great amount of texture to the tune. It’s a beautiful, memorable tune: a star among stars.

If you’re sick of chillwave, sorry. I’m not, and The House on the Mountain is absolutely gorgeous. If you love blissing out, Teen Daze is here to help.

kazyak

Kazyak used to be a groove-laden jam band of sorts, so it’s a bit surprising that they’ve reinvented as a alt-folk band. However, it’s not surprising that they’ve done it in a unique way, given that they came from another genre. This EP could bridge the gap perfectly between the forlorn For Emma, Forever Ago and lush Bon Iver, if Peter Frey were Justin Vernon. But he’s not, and we instead meet a Kazyak on See the Forest, See the Trees that tries to reunite disparate sounds that currently fall under the same name.

It’s a fitting title, then: the trees of the individual songs stand up, and the entire album fits neatly as a whole. A few tunes can be plucked from the runtime without injuring their effectiveness; others must be heard in context of the whole 26-minute piece. It’s a rare album that can pull off this trick, and it’s what makes me so excited about Kazyak.

The best combo move is opener “Pieces of My Map,” which introduces Kazyak’s love of atmospheric banjo, sweeping guitar swells, and lush arrangements. But amid the mini-symphony, the vocal melody cuts through, shining as the focus on the piece. This splits the difference between vocals-centric and arrangement-centric folk neatly.

“Part I: Rabbiting Fox” and “Part II: Pitch Thick” show off the arrangement-centric side of the sound, with dramatic melodies, intimate moods, and careful arrangements. The gorgeous opening 1;30 of “Rabbiting Fox” is some of the most engaging music on the album. The unique “Tar Baby” shows off the vocals by having the vocalist slide back and forth between falsetto and chest voice repeatedly to accentuate the lyrics. It is an unusual move that some may reject, but it definitely shows a creative mind at work.

Kazyak’s See the Forest, See the Trees is beautiful and substantial; the melodic qualities don’t get lost in the arrangements or vice versa. Instead, it stands as a strong testament to varied songwriting. I hope to hear more from Kazyak’s unique perspective in the future.

Slim Loris / Way Yes

June 5, 2013

slimloris

Slim Loris hails from Stockholm, Sweden, but you’d never be able to tell based on their sound. They play folky Americana with Shins-esque indie-pop leanings, which should perk up the ears of any longtime reader of this blog. The best example is “Clean as a Whistle,” which blends a tambourine, banjo/acoustic guitar strum, and a Paul Simon-esque flute for an incredibly satisfying verse. The chorus kicks it up a notch, adding in a tom drum, a french horn, and perky background vocals that you will want to shout along with. It’s the sort of the song that makes me sit up and take notice.

But they’re not a one-trick pony: opener “Fear of Flying” is a jubilant indie-pop tune composed of hectic percussion, bouncy organ, steady guitar strum … and timpani. It sounds effortless, just like “Clean as a Whistle.” If you want even more than that, “I Will Forget” and “While I Breathe” are quiet tunes driven by slow, stately piano. In “Domestic,” a gorgeous female alto voice is introduced as a counterpoint to the male tenor vocals. The charm of Slim Loris is that all of these sounds cohabit Future Echoes and Past Replays without sounding disjointed or erratic. The band inhabits all of their sounds, making them sound natural.

The overall effect of Future Echoes is an impressive one: it can easily stand up beside other indie-pop albums from much more well-known bands. Not every track is a home run, but there are a ton of high-quality tracks. If you’re a fan of thoughtful indie-pop with lively arrangements but also a pensive side, I highly recommend checking out Slim Loris.

tog pebbles

Way YesTog Pebbles is the sort of thing that comes along, blows my mind, and leaves me wondering what to write about. Tog Pebbles‘s unique sound blends tribal rhythms, shimmering guitars, horns, and impressionistic vocals to create a unique sound. It’s like a more grounded Animal Collective; instead of having a mystical quality that AC has, Way Yes has a concrete feel. It’s as if I am walking through a jungle, matter-of-factly, instead of with wide-eyed wonder. Maybe I’m sneaking a few glances of wide-eyed wonder every now and then, but mostly, you know, this is a thing that happens. It’s beautiful and excellent, but it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary (at least to the members of Way Yes). To us, of course, it’s kind of mindblowing, which is why I’m breaking from my usual reviewing methods and going all Pitchfork on this review. EXTENDED METAPHORS EVERYWHERE.

I could tell you about the individual songs, but the album is so tightly written and organized that I feel it would be largely useless. Furthermore, the band doesn’t have to get away from their core sound very often (because their core sound is so unique): if I described each of the songs, it would largely be the same descriptors. But the melodies are excellent, the moods are exquisite, and the songs are wonderful. If you’re into unique sounds but hate the phrase “world music,” then Way Yes has an album that will make you jump. Totally awesome.

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

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