It should be obvious at this point that I’m a sucker for a pop song by a acoustic-instrument folk collective. But The Noise Revival Orchestra‘s latest tunes, which fall squarely into the aforementioned category, were a bit baffling to me. The last TNRO release I reviewed was To The Seven Churches In The Province Of Asia, which was an intriguing post-rock effort. There have been intervening releases, which other writers for Independent Clauses covered; somewhere in there I missed a dramatic stylistic shift. Their press says that it happened for this album specifically, and that would be an abrupt shift indeed if that were the case.
This is sort of a bummer; I miss TNRO’s old sound. I thought it was vibrant and thoughtful. However, I begrudge them not their new direction; nothing is constant in music but change. Songs of Forgiveness is a strong 20-minute, 5-song EP that shows a confident sound and interesting melodic ideas.
But they can’t fully escape their post-rock bent; having subsisted previously on primarily instrumental melodies in the post-rock realm, their retained sense of melody is a welcome aspect of their new sound. The title track has sweeping cinematic “oh-ay-oh-ay-ohs,” and closer “Sapphire” has a long instrumental intro featuring violin. The title track also features a uniquely syncopated rhythm throughout, giving the song an unusual quality among most straight-four-count folk tunes. “Crushing On You” has a similar highly refined sense of rhythm.
And, get this: there’s a massive key change and distorted bass guitar in the title track. This is pretty much still a post-rock band at heart, just writing pop songs that happen to sound like a folk collective because of their choice of instrumentation.
“Dance the Night Away” and “When I Was 8” have the ornamentation and rhythm, but they are dominated more by the vocals than the instrumental performance. These tracks are less effective; the male vocals are good, but they’re not the most compelling part of this band. The sound works better when the instruments lead the voices through the song, and not vice versa.
Overall, this is an incredibly unique and interesting EP. Critics are fickle, always asking bands to change or not change, depending on what we like or dislike about them. (Sorry.) The Noise Revival Orchestra has pulled off the rare feat of moving forward in their sound while still retaining things that made them great. If you’re interested in progressive, well-arranged pop songs, you should definitely be looking over here.
Album Name: To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia
Best Element: Stunning songwriting, stellar musicianship
Label Name: n/a (this is a sin)
Band E-mail: email@example.com
The Noise Revival has a lot of guts, and I admire them for it. I admire the fact that they would put barrels of money into an extremely well-produced record of sounds that aren’t going to be well-received by the public at large. You see, The Noise Revival is somewhat akin to a more optimistic Pink Floyd- creating huge slabs of rock that are at times droning and at others complex and intricate. Ebb and flow is the lifeblood of the Noise Revival, and To The Seven Churches in the Province of Asia is basically one 60-minute song broken up into 9 slightly-easier-to-handle chunks (this very nature defeats the purpose of quoting song titles, which I won’t do very often during this review). It’s freaking awesome if you like that sort of thing- which I do, a lot. This album has some extremely strong songwriting and while the vocals could use a little bit of help, these songs are mostly instrumental, which only adds to their gutsiness.
These songs succeed because these songs aren’t long out of pretentiousness. These songs are long because the members of the band enjoy the melodies that they play so much that they feel compelled to repeat them many times in many different settings. This isn’t a band that says “lets play long songs cause it’s cool”- this is a band that says “man, this melody is awesome- how many different ways can we work this into a song?”
Another thing that helps out their sound is that the band members are all on the same page. Each of the individual members seems to be on equal talent footing. None of the members go for the narcissistic touches- each plays their own little part in making the sound go. There aren’t any huge drum solos or bombastic guitar riffings- there’s only what needs to be done. The keys offer up a brilliant touch in “Lie N Die”- then disappear. The guitar repeatedly plays a beautiful melody in “Good Job”, but it never gets excessive. The drums never goes for the throat, put always gently pushes the sound forward- the stomping beat on “Revolution” is ample proof of that. The bassist has a huge contribution on this album- his finesse and melodic ability turn many of the more droning sections of atmospherics into highly enjoyable sections of music.
The only drawback to The Noise Revival’s sound is the vocals, which take some adjusting to. They’re sort’ve like a mournful trumpet- not really all that happy to be there, but you know it’s there. Sometimes the low, swooping sound works in the context of the music, but many times it feels a little awkward. It’s truly the only awkward piece of this equation, though- every other piece fits together like clockwork- including the mood shifts, which are dramatic. The song “Revolution” alone contains all out rock, dream-pop, ethereal moodiness, dancy stuff, tempo changes galore, and I think even a key change, although I can’t verify that. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if there were one in there.
The Noise Revival has crafted an epic with To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia. This is probably my favorite release of epic post-rock since Pink Floyd committed their visionary whatever-you-want-to-classify-it-as to tape. And while it’s ambitious to pass up people like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed and all those who made the genre famous, I feel something in the Noise Revival that I don’t feel in the others. I feel an earnestness, an honesty, a passion, a driving force that gives them something more. Also, I feel a lot more variations in sound than I do with other bands. That always helps.
Basically, if you like post-rock and you don’t own this album, you’re cheating yourself. This album is the epitome of both post-rock and the enduring hope of the independent music scene.
If you’re a little nervous at this point, don’t be: even though “Love Song for Anita” starts out with gigantic choral harmonies, there’s a section around 5:30 in to the piece where Felix takes it down all the way to a plunking piano and glockenspiel. It sounds like a Lullatone piece, which is remarkably cool on its own and even cooler in contrast to the traditional orchestral structure around it. Felix may not be fronting an indie rock band here, but he can’t resist turning a whole orchestra into an indie rock outfit temporarily.
He does the same thing on “Harmonious Harlot,” where a syncopated piano and vocal line intertwine to create an ominous, wiry vibe that sounds strikingly like something you might expect to come out of a Bloc Party album. It gets even more exciting once the vocals split into multiple lines, punctuated by huge horn blasts and interwoven with harp. All this to say, don’t be afraid of this album because it’s a choral symphony. There’s a lot to be thrilled about if you’re a person whose classical music influences don’t extend farther than (or as far as) Sufjan or Joanna Newsom’s explorations.
The charms continue throughout: the beautiful cello/oboe combo in “Mistress of Mistrust” must be noted, along with the remarkable cello solo that starts out “The Sword and the Throne.” The piano-heavy “Phantasmagoria” is a peaceful respite among the highly dramatic work. The harp, which appears throughout, gets its moment in the memorable interlude “Dreamsicle.” There are some more thoroughly orchestral moments (the stomping “Dungeon of Versailles” sounds fully like what you might imagine from a giant orchestra), but in general, this is an orchestra that sounds like it was written by someone who’s up with the current trends.
Neon Heavenis not your usual listening, almost certainly. But in its 40 minutes, Neon Heaven holds many distinct charms, beautiful moments, and memorable sections. If you’re an adventurous listener, you should definitely check out Neon Heaven whenever you can. If you’re in Austin, there will be a listening party for the record at the Museum of Human Achievement on Saturday at 8 p.m., and I encourage you to go.
I was having lunch with a friend my age (mid-20s) a few weeks ago. He got a bachelor’s degree in music and now works as the music director at the church I go to. The topic veered toward orchestral music, which my friend lamented as dying. “I go to the symphony, and I’m the youngest person there by 30 years!” he said with frustration. And it’s true; composers aren’t the sexy, rebellious Liszts of old; hipsters don’t flock to traditional classical works. Still, there are people working in the idiom, and I don’t think we’ll sound the last playing of Mozart any time soon.
The Noise Revival’s Nathan Felix is the latest in this movement of young composers working to create full orchestral work, releasing his debut symphony The Curse The Cross & The Lion today. It is indeed a full symphony of almost a half-hour’s length. This isn’t pseudo-soundtrack music, although there are some moments reminiscent of good film scores. No, this is a consistent piece of music that takes full attention and full energy to enjoy. There are nuances. In some ways, I had to listen with a different set of ears than my usual “indie-pop” ones; there are different goals, different textures, different ways of being. There’s a heartbreaking oboe solo that stands out amid “V. Don’t Give It Up,” which is one of the most beautiful and powerful sections in the piece; that’s not going to happen in indie-pop all that often.
I’m not qualified to assess this symphony against other classical music, but I can say that it’s incredibly rewarding to listen to for those who don’t listen to a ton of classical music. If you’re into orchestral music, have an adventurous ear, or just like beautiful things, then The Curse The Cross & The Lion should be on your to-hear list.
I idolized the Beach Boys instead of The Beatles growing up, so Pet Sounds is a monument in my musical development. Even as a teenager, I was able to grasp how incredibly difficult everything was on that album. So it’s fairly ambitious to cover the whole album in an indie-pop/indie-folk idiom, as the bands on Mint 400 Records set out to do. (That’s a direct download link, btw.)
The Duke of Norfolk (whom I manage) kicks off the album with a singer/songwriter-esque take on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” setting the mood for the rest of the album. The One & Nines conform their Motown soul bent into a passionate version of “I’m Waiting for the Day,” while Fairmont’s stand-out rendition of “God Only Knows” is probably very close to what Brian Wilson would have done in the power-pop idiom. A few of the tracks delve heavily into lo-fi arrangements and performances, so fans of that genre have plenty to love as well. It’s free, too! Enjoy Mint 400’s Pet Sounds.
Nathan Felix is a bit of a staple at Independent Clauses: his band The Noise Revival (sometimes The Noise Revival Orchestra) made its first appearance at IC in early 2006 and has been in its pages ever since. Most recently, TNRO contributed a fully orchestrated version of “Brand New Colony” to Never Give Up. It’s his love of orchestras that propels this latest news clip: Felix, not content with having a rock band that is also kind of an orchestra, is composing directly for orchestras now. Along these lines, he was recently invited to the Levon Manukyan Collegium Musicum Summer Program for Emerging Composers in Bourgas, Bulgaria to record a new orchestral piece.
But he needs your help to get there! You can contribute via this page. He’s currently got about $3K more to go. Here’s a local news reel documenting Felix’s new-found love of composing:
They’re using IndieGoGo for the campaign, which closes at the end of the month. So far they’ve received $21,100 of their $60,000 goal. I jumped in the first day the project was open, because I believe in this project and really want this to happen. Check it out.
“Come Thou Fount”:
“Till Kingdom Come” (originally by Coldplay):
And more of that could be in the world. Let’s help make that happen.
This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
Austinites The Noise Revival Orchestra toured China, and they made a 13-minute tour documentary. This mesmerizing video is not your average tour doc at all, and you should check it out the first chance you get. Which is right now, if you’re reading this. Seriously. Do it.
Remember that whole “Quiet Is the New Loud” movement that Kings of Convenience were at the front of in the 2000s? I loved that stuff. So did, apparently, Australians Breaking Hart Benton, whose lovely video for “More Than You Deserve” evokes both the beauty of the acoustic tune and the alienness of the past.
So the actual video for Phosphorescent’s “Song for Zula” is not the main draw here: I mostly just want you to listen to the heartbreakingly beautiful “Song for Zula” again.
Not gonna lie, Deb Oh and the Cavaliers’ video for “Primacy” reads like a a/v version of “What Hipsters Love.” But there’s a reason we love fencing, and globes, and slo-mo water droplets, and ink blots in water: because they’re fun to watch. (Also because they’re indicative of certain social structures that…oh nevermind, it’s just fun to watch.)
Independent Clauses’ 10th birthday is coming up, and we promised loyal IC readers a present/surprise at the beginning of the year. Today is the day that we unveil that present. We are putting out a 20-band compilation album of covers from Give Up by The Postal Service called Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service. It will be out May 15 on Bandcamp.
We’re running a Kickstarter campaign to finish up the funding of the mechanical licenses. We’re only looking for $695, because this project isn’t looking to change the world: we just want everyone to get paid legally. So, if you want to support Independent Clauses, get some sweet free tunes, support one of the bands below, or generally be awesome to each other, you should hit up the Kickstarter Page and check out the prizes. I’ll handmake you a mix CD! With art!
Once upon a time in a land where rock and roll was new, the vinyl record reigned supreme. Large though they were, the vinyl record remained popular with its subjects throughout the sixties and seventies. Later, it was dethroned by the much smaller cassette tape, which was then overthrown by the now-familiar compact disc. But technology progressed, and mp3 players challenged the compact disc’s dominion. Supporting this challenger is The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience, a band that has recently released their new music not on a CD, but on a USB drive.
“It’s a bit of an ode to the DIY punk movement in the 1970s,” Nathan Felix, frontman of the 13-member group, said. “Just think of it as a progression of digital DIY.”
Progression, indeed. The USB drive is lightweight, rectangular, and fits easily in pockets. Percussionist Aaron Calhoun said the idea came randomly during a band brainstorm, but he wasn’t sure if the endeavor was economically feasible. When a friend of the band donated hundreds of USBs, the suggestion became possible, and Calhoun said the release idea seemed a very convenient one.
“When you go downtown for a show, you sometimes want to get a CD, but you don’t necessarily want to have to carry it around the rest of the night, so some people just think they’ll get it later. They may forget by the next day. Anyone will take a USB drive though. It’s easy to carry around and it’s useful,” Calhoun said.
The Noise Revival is not worried about the potential sharing of the USB that could go on; they just want to be heard.
“We’re at a phase where we just want people to hear our music, so we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do that,” Calhoun said. “Most people just rip their CDs straight to the computer when they get home so they can put it on their mp3 player. This just takes one step out of that equation.”
Calhoun also believes that releasing The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience’s first EP on USB will bring in more listeners and fans.
“People can put the songs on their computer and give the drive to their friend without really losing much of anything,” he said. “We hope that’s what happens to some degree.”
The band manufactures all of the USB drives, which include album artwork and lyrics, themselves. 130 drives were made for the release party, but Felix said that they will probably make about 100-200 more. The EP is available on the band’s website for $5.
But what have responses to the unusual release? Felix said that reactions to the release method have been “completely positive” so far.
“It definitely grabs people’s attention,” he said.
But The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience is not just revolutionary in their music release methods. The band’s music itself is ambitious and inventive.
The self-recorded and produced debut EP is a work of classical compositions with splashes of indie influences. The tracks feel like movements instead of individual songs, yet each is very different from the rest.
Songwriter and composer Felix stopped listening to music altogether because he felt it was creatively inhibiting. But later, he was much inspired by John Corigliano’s symphony called “Circus Maximus” when penning music for The Noise Revival.
“Basically I try not to intervene with the natural creative forces in me,” Felix said. “I look as my self as the vessel and I try not to question whether or not something is ‘right’ or if it ‘fits’ or if it’s ‘good’ or if it ‘flows.’ I just go with it and trust that in the end it will have meaning.”
This somewhat unorthodox approach has led to a truly remarkable release from The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience, both in output means and actual content. Coming out in the summer is the group’s first full album, but this will be on CD and vinyl format, in order to do something different, as Felix explained. But now the question remains of how music releases will develop in the future … perhaps downloadable straight into our brains?
1. “Lighthouse” – The Burgeoning. One of the most intriguing singles I’ve heard all year, this track combines the ambient uppers of chillwave with the melodic structures of Vampire Weekend and the frantic fury (and guitar noise) of a punk band. It’s a fresh, amazing combination. I’m looking forward to hear more from The Burgeoning.
2. “The Next Morning” – The Drafts. The energy and enthusiastic guitars of The Vaccines meet a reserved, pensive vocalist for a charming, infectious tune that you’ll want to hear multiple times.
3. “Where I Go” – Pistol Shrimp. If Passion Pit, MGMT, and Anamanaguchi had a basement dance party, this bangin’ tune would be the result. Pop gold, right here.
4. “Heartracer” – Cosby. Synth-laden, big-pop ’80s revivalism is going great this year. This fits right up there with Challenger for the best of the bunch.
5. “Recurring Dreams” – Shivery Shakes. The carefree nature of whistling in a ’60s surf-pop influenced tune gets me every time. You like The Drums? You’ll love this.
6. “Promises” – Barreracudas. If you make a metaphor that includes arcade games (specifically Donkey Kong), I will be immediately more endeared to you. Fun, poppy garage-rock here.
7. “Speed Date Yr Way to Fame” – Sweet Deals on Surgery. Starts off a thrashy, screamed, frantic punk song before taking a momentary break in pop. Then in blasts off again.
8. “Name on a Matchbook” – Springtime Carnivore. ’60s girl pop gets a slight sonic update, but the soul of this tune really begs for an -ettes suffix.
9. “Head Down” – The Ocean Party. Jangly ’80s indie-rock meets airy ’80s synth-pop. The peppy, fun results are less ’80s and more ’00s than you’d think.
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.