I absolutely love The Menzingers for their striking combination of tough vocals, melodic pop-punk chops, and intriguing lyrics. Whenever I find echoes of their work in bands, I jump on those releases. The Radio Reds‘ Memory Loss hits all three of The Menzingers’ categories. Opener “Moloch” combines anthemic, soaring melodies with hard-hitting lyrics about the effects of war. The rest of the album traffics in more introspective, poetic material about interpersonal conflict, but “Moloch” is a blistering condemnation of the American treatment of veterans. Coming from a military family, it resonated hard.
Vocalist Stephen (no last name provided) keeps a tough edge on his vocals throughout the album, snarling a bit without turning the lines into yelling. (Don’t worry, there are some yelling sections for bros and girls in the pit: “Southern Belle,” “The Artist.”) This creates a nice tension that meshes neatly with the tension between the melodic sections of the tracks and the mash-those-chords breakdowns. The Radio Reds know how to balance the songwriting so that neither side of their songwriting style gets slighted. There are extremes, as “The Artist” is a furious street-punk endeavor that–enigmatically but excellently–includes horn in a third-wave ska fashion; “Let It Show” has the old-school pop-punk drumming style (always welcome in this corner), screamed vocals, and some metal overtones in the guitar work. On the other end, “Interlude” is just that, in fine, morose Brand New style. The horns reprise wonderfully, in a jazzier mode this time.
The Radio Reds have a lot going on in Memory Loss. They’re refining their own voice in the punk community, as well as tinkering with horns and quieter tunes (“Knife”) for variation. I look forward to seeing where The Radio Reds go from here, as Memory Loss is an engaging, intriguing listen for fans of The Menzingers, Titus Andronicus, The Gaslight Anthem, and the like.
Post-rock is about as avant-garde as I get, with rare exceptions. But ARP caught my attention with music that stretches the boundaries of pop music to the point that “Gravity (For Charlemagne Palestine)” sounds very much like strings-fronted post-rock. MORE is a weird trip through perky, charming music as thought through by a musician very interested in the deconstruction and reconstruction of sounds. “Invisible Signals,” the interlude following “Gravity,” is a spun-dial clip of radio found sounds: it leads directly into “More (Blues),” which is an Otis Redding-style blues/Motown/soul song complete with horns. ARP’s low tenor/high baritone voice fit nicely in the unexpected genre, and both arrangement and melody sound great.
It’s that sort of weird back alley that ARP is interested in on MORE, leading to the spaced-out intro of the harpsichord-driven “A Tiger in the Hall at Versailles” and a two-minute clip of nature sounds called “17th Daydream.” “V2 Slight Return” is a minute-long guitar experiment. “Persuasion” is a six-minute straight-ahead instrumental rock song. The sharp, clear production holds things together as well as it can, but your willingness to follow an experimenter where his trails and trials lead him is going to be the main feature in your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of ARP’s MORE. That, and whether you like optmistic post-rock. I enjoyed the album for its unique perspective, but this is certainly a “maybe not for everyone” release.
Bel Argosy aptly labels itself as pop-rock-punk; the three words (and their various mashups: punk rock, pop-rock, pop-punk) are all mixed up in most “electric guitars and sung vocals” music these days. The six songs on Let’s Hear It For Bel Argosy incorporate mid-tempo guitar crunch, pretty straight rhythms, and varied vocals.
“Belle Below Dagger” has some laconic, ’90s-style, speak-sing vocals not all that different from Cake; “Late to Give Up” has more high-pitched, hectic, traditionally punk-rock-styled vocals. “The Lie,” which only takes 1:43 of your time, still doesn’t do it in a very speedy way; mid-tempo guitar music ratchets up to noisy punk-rock banging and then quits quickly. The overall feeling is one of easy enjoyment; the band is having fun, and you should be too. Yes, if you’re a fan of fun and friendly bits of pop-rock-punk like Superchunk, The Weakerthans, or other bands in that vein, you’ll find much to enjoy in Let’s Hear It for Bel Argosy.
Pop-folk has started to take over the radio. I never would have guessed that I’d write that sentence, but there it is. We’ll know that the domination has become total when The Parmesans make it to the radio: they take pop-folk one step farther down the line, playing a very pop-friendly form of bluegrass. Debut album Wolf Eggs is 15 (!) songs of melody-heavy folk/bluegrass that will make you want to tap your foot, clap, and sing along. Opener “Spicy Cigarette” sets the mood for the rest of the album by introducing a guitar/mandolin/stand-up bass trio tracked live, with each of the members contributing harmonized vocals. They even shout “hey!” in the middle of the mandolin solo. How can you not love that sound? “Load Up on Eggs” features a trumpet to great effect; “JuJaJe” recalls the Avett Brothers in blocky, chord-based style; “The Riddle Song” will steal your heart away (or the heart of whatever significant other you play it for).
While “The Riddle Song” is beautiful musically, its title implies that the lyrics are the main point, and so they are. The Parmesans are not slouches in that department, which makes this album even more enjoyable. There are plenty of standard references to alcohol (“Spicy Cigarette,” “Wine in My Mustache”), food (“Load Up On Eggs”), and various agricultural things (“Hay,” “Chicken Yard”), but there’s also a knowing wit in these tunes. The tropes may be a beard, but they’re not fake: the lyrics use the goofy top layer to speak to real emotions and situations. It’s fun and real. How often do you get that?
The Parmesans know what’s up on Wolf Eggs: they give you a large set of tunes that are memorable melodically and lyrically. It’s fun, funny, and even sentimental. What else do you want out of a folk album? Wolf Eggs is one of the best releases I’ve heard all year, and I expect to see it in my end of year lists.
I love chiptune. As I write this sentence, I’m listening to chiptune version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” because seriously, I’m committed to this genre. Anamanaguchi is also wholly invested in the genre, as their Endless Fantasy shows. They’ve thrown down 22 songs on the album, and all of them are chock full of mostly-instrumental warp-speed pop-punk shot through with enough jubilant chiptune melodies to make 1988 Nintendo jealous. If you can’t get happy while listening to this music, I don’t know what can help you. This is the aural equivalent of drinking a Red Bull. It’s the most fun music I’ve heard all year. The members are sneakily talented at arranging these songs so that it doesn’t get boring, but that’s not the point. Bouncing off the flippin’ walls is the point. And you should do that. Heartily. With gusto.
I’m not going to lie: I loved Dashboard Confessional. I was the right exact age for that to be my jam in high school, and there’s just no way I can sit here and say that I didn’t holler along with those songs unabashedly. I pulled out The Swiss Army Romance when I heard that the Chris Carrabba-fronted pop-folk band Twin Forks was among us, and it was one of the most nostalgic things I have ever experienced. I felt like I was 16 again, really and truly.
So it should not surprise you that I’m about to say that Twin Forks is awesome. I mean, how could it not be? This guy has tons of experience writing songs on an acoustic guitar, and now he gets to put banjos and mandolins around it. He sings like he sings. If you hate his voice, well, you’re probably not reading this sentence, because you already left. This is exactly what you think it would be, and that’s great. The more critical quandary goes something like this, a la Phillip Phillips: is this a shameless play on what is popular? Is it a “right time at the right place” thing? Is it simply boredom on Carrabba’s part? The populist in me has an answer: I DON’T CARE ONE BIT. If you need more Dashboard Confessional, or more pop-folk, jump on Twin Forks’ self-titled EP. You will sing and stomp and dance and I’m going to stop before I go all caps on this. I’m just all about it. Yes.
When you’ve been in music for a while, nuance and subtlety become more important to you. This is true for listeners and creators; although I can still appreciate a mighty guitar riff, I find myself entranced by complex lyrical turns and less obvious arrangements. Tri-State is a band composed of people who have been in bands, and you can tell from the songs they write. These pop-rock tunes, while poppy, are not constructed as instant hits. These are measured tunes, tunes that take their time on little guitar bits (“All Different,” “Back Before”) just because. This unhurried, “let’s give this some space” method is much like that of IC fave The Brixton Riot.
Tri-State’s tunes unfold in pleasing ways: “Back Before” creates an ominous mood that builds and builds, while follow-up “Country Squire” toes the line between pop-rock and alt-country. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all; the songs feel like outworkings of the same thought process. If you’re into ’90s indie-rock (Pavement, Guided by Voices) or mature songwriting that appreciates with multiple listens, you should give Tri-State’s self-titled EP a spin.
Kira Velella‘s gentle voice is the primary feature of her singer/songwriter tunes, and for good reason. Her second soprano/alto voice commands the arrangements, sucking the listener in. “Lover, Move” and “Barn Swallow” both feature strong instrumental songwriting that is totally eclipsed by the endearing confidence of Velella’s voice. She accomplishes the rare feat of encapsulating confidence and vulnerability in a single performance, which keeps me coming back to the tunes.
This uncommon tension buoys the six-song Daughter EP, making it consistently interesting to the invested listener. The wintry arrangements accomplish a second improbable feat: the Damien Jurado-esque characteristic of feeling both lush and sparse at the same time. It gives Velella’s vocals both the forefront and a space to inhabit; it is easy to imagine Velella in a video clip of a snow-covered field for any of these tracks. The mood here is strong throughout tunes, giving a polish to the release. All told, this is an impressive debut offering from Kira Velella.
Categories can be stultifying and abrasive, but they are helpful starting points for conversation. Saying that U137 plays post-rock is mildly helpful to get the conversation started, but saying that the band plays “pretty” post-rock (Moonlit Sailor, Dorena, The Album Leaf) instead of “heavy” post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Tyranny is Tyranny) is far more descriptive. You’re going to hear a lot of arpeggios, humongous crescendoes to jubilant melodies, and ethereal synths in Dreamer on the Run. If you’re into that, then the 40 or so minutes you spend listening will be breathtaking.
It’s not the sort of album where one particular track sticks out: it’s simply a forty-minute excursion into a beautiful section of the world. If you’re feeling down about the government shutdown, gun violence, poverty, or any other modern malaise, Dreamer on the Run can help you forget that for a few minutes and remember that there are so many beautiful things in the world to comfort you. This, simply put, is a gorgeous record.
The Severely Departed is a post-rock duo that does a very good job of not sounding like a duo. This isn’t to say that they pack their tunes with instruments to hide the fact that it’s two guys; it’s that the elements they incorporate sound full and natural. The songs on Two build and fall in exciting and interesting ways, playing off tensions between the performers. Many duos can become the back line supporting the front line, but The Severely Departed encourages the drums to play an equal role in the tunes. Whether this is by setting a near-constant cymbal backdrop for “Moving On” or by supplying solid contrast to the guitar antics in “A Parting Glance,” Ben Crowley’s drum parts shine. In parts of “Relapse,” Crowley’s complex parts are the whole action, as Chris Grimm repeats a distant guitar riff and lets Crowley roll. It reminds me of the acrobatic, heavily rhythmic drumming of Josh Baruth on The Appleseed Cast’s Mare Vitalis.
Grimm has his own highlights, as the guitar and keys bounce back and forth between beautiful clean melodies (a la Moonlit Sailor) and heavier riffs. The tensions between these two styles are played up in “Relapse,” making it the most intriguing tune of the bunch. But each of the five tracks here have their own merits: the layered piano and guitars of “Beneath the Years” allow for one of the more complex arrangements of the bunch, while “Into the Open” displays great use of tension. Two is an impressive release for the Severely Departed, and I hope it gets them a lot more recognition in the post-rock world.
Chicago’s Shiloh refers to itself as scum pop. It’s nowhere near as scuzzy as SanFran garage rock, but it does mash up indie-rock, indie-pop, and alt-country in a lyrically and musically irreverent way. There’s plenty of glee to be had throughout the 10-song Mrs.: the excellent a capella chorale of “Perfecting the Art” gets pummeled by one of the loudest rock sections on the album; opener “Midwestern Sigh” recalls Pavement and the like in their giddy disregard for vocal and songwriting conventions; “Winking Buick” is some sort of alt-country/indie/surf-rock instrumental jam sesh. The core of almost every tune is recognizably alt-country, but the tunes sprawl out over a wide spectrum from there. For instance, closer “Perfecting the Art” crams a mellow pop song, a saloon-style breakdown, and the aforementioned a capella/rock breakdown into 3:54 (all while still retaining an irresistible melody). If you’re into varied, genre-bending songwriting, Shiloh is a good bet to pique your interest.
Zack Walther and the Awe Hells play a mash-up of rock, folk, and Southern rock that calls up comparisons to Needtobreathe pretty quickly. Walther has a resonant, powerful voice that plays on top of twangy banjo (“Heartstrings”), foot-stomping swamp rock that incorporates a manic gospel tint (“Mustang Wine”), and mid-tempo rock (“Stand Up”) with equal ease. His baritone provides a lot of the direction, but the band provides swagger to match. The bass work is especially notable, as the low-end contributes a great deal to the feel of tunes like “Stand Up” and “Here With You.” If you wish that Zac Brown Band was a bit more muscly, or that Needtobreathe get a little bit too Muse-y at times, then Zack Walther and the Awe Hells’ 15:51 EP will be in your corner.
Here’s the best video stuff I received last month (and early this month).
Hey Geronimo have combined one of my favorite songs of the year (“Lazer Gun Show”) with a suitably awesome video that includes cheesy sci-fi and a giant cat. I just love this.
Rykka’s video for the slick, classy “Blackie” starts out like something out of The Knife but ends up in a significantly happier space.
Paper City’s surf-pop album Summer of Love came out recently, and they decided to put together a trailer for it. I’m usually not a big fan of trailers, but this one kept my attention with a huge number of costume changes and goofy props. Love it.
If you’ve got approximately 75 minutes and a love of hymns, Roots and Wings: The Story of Indelible Grace and the RUF Hymns is on YouTube. I haven’t had 75 minutes to watch the whole thing yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it.
Now that the server stuff has all been resolved, I’ve recovered from my illness, and even trimmed my beard, IC is back on its game. Here’s a megamix of singles that came my way in September and early October.
Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back
1. “Land” – I, The Mountain. This band isn’t afraid to rock out a tune that starts out as a delicate folk tune, and the tension between the two moods makes the song. The video is also fun!
2. “Pinhole of Light” – Heart-Ships. If the Walkmen, The National, and Interpol collaborated on a tune, it might be this twitchy, nervous, and ultimately incredibly catchy.
3. “Dream On / Dream Off” – Ghost Twins. Shoegaze meets a four-on-the-floor beat and dark guitar riffs. I’m pretty sure this would be incredible live.
4. “Till You See” – Magazine Society. Dance-rock with a swooning emotive bent in the chorus? Muse would be proud.
5. “Big Night” – My Grey Horse. Hazy in mood but precise in execution, My Grey Horse walks the thin line between indie-pop and indie-rock memorably.
6. “Do You Ever?” – Phia. If you’re not familiar with the kalimba, Phia will show you how to use it in an infectious pop song. FFO: Regina Spektor, M.I.A., Ingrid Michaelson.
7. “Beginning” – FIGHTs. Nigh on unexplainable, except that this is the most celebratory instincts of several genres all clamoring for the attention of your ears at once. Absolutely great.
8. “8 Bit Intro + Hide in the Light” – Sir Wes Al Gress. Reaching into Girl Talk-influenced areas, Sir Wes gives us a fractured, bouncy, interesting take on electro.
9. “Tears Apart” – Letters to Fiesta. Combining Fleetwood Mac mysticism with propulsive post-punk rhythms and feel, things get awesome real quickly here.
10. “Caribbean Cask” – Casual Strangers. Do they have beaches on other planets? If so, this is the gently rolling soundtrack to your interstellar mai tai.
11. “Parking Drama” – Turing. This 15 minutes of slowly-unfolding, guitar-driven post-rock achieves that rare (but coveted) feel of a true dramatic/cinematic event via distinct movements.
12. “Hear Me Out” – Paper Electric. Somewhere between Bjork’s unusual moods and The Postal Service’s clickitack indie-pop lies the oddly engaging Paper Electric.
13. “Monday” – Lonely Child. Chill R&B that calls up Radiohead tensions … with beatboxing. Yes.
14. “Listen” – Teen Daze. Teen Daze doesn’t need my help but his music is just so beautiful. I have to keep posting it.
15. “All’s Not Spoken” – Kayte Grace. Smooth, gospel-inflected singer/songwriter immerses me with strong vocals and trumpet.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.