Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Self-Evident / The Racer

December 20, 2012


There are, to my knowledge, two ways to write complex music: you learn how to do it as the first thing you know, or you can exhaust all your interest in simplicity. I don’t know which tack Self-Evident took to get here, but We Built a Fortress on Short Notice is incredibly complex in the best ways. WBAFOSN is a tour de force of creative, thoughtful rock.

The complexity of Self-Evident’s music is deceptive, because they make it sound so easy. Tracks like “Our Condition” and “Half Bicycle” build around guitar riffs that seem to bend the very fabric of time signatures, rendering them useless. The fact that the riff sounds perfect with the rest of the band while sounding otherworldly unto itself is a testament to the rhythm section’s patience and prowess. If you’re into intricate rhythms and guitar antics, this one will blow your mind a bit. I mean, just try to duplicate the melodic “Bartertown” or the pulsing “In Cowardice”; it sounds simple, but whoa. It’s totally crazy once you break it down.

The one thing this isn’t is a singalong album: while lead singer Conrad Mach can sing a catchy line if he feels like it, he prefers to deliver his vocals in a ragged yell. While this may bug listeners used to melodic prowess in the music I review, the instrumentals are so extraordinary that they should be impressed anyway; Self-Evident’s latest album is that sort of wild, fascinating ride which leaves you satisfied even if you didn’t know you wanted it. (But those with intense melodic loyalty may want to skip “Not Literally.” Just sayin’.)


The Racer‘s brand of rock fits in that narrow slice of time where Bush was still an acceptably awesome rock band. Passengers draws firmly on melodic post-grunge as a base, adding in some bombast from post-rock and some quieter moments of later indie (although “Glycerine” was pretty quiet as well).

“Impact” is the aptly titled first track after the introduction, as the band crams every part of its sound into 4:11. From dramatic instrumental pauses to gentle melodic passages to pounding rock’n’roll, they leave no stone unturned. There’s even a guitar solo. But several elements run through all of that: this band is melody-centric, and furthermore, vocals-centric. That doesn’t mean bad things; Anberlin is the same way.

And Anberlin (especially early, Blueprints for the Black Market-era Anberlin) is a good analogue. These guys know their way around a hook, but they also know how to crank up the guitars. They’ve got taste and tact enough to create atmosphere, and enough passion to ratchet that atmosphere up to towering crescendoes. “Celebrate” and “Lost. Love. Art.” both have particular charms, the former having some wiry guitar work and the latter incorporating some heavily rhythmic elements to great effect. But it’s almost always the quiet tunes that get me, and the same is true here: the title track is a swirling thing, growing off a gentle but insistent piano line. It shows their versatility and strength of songwriting excellently. If you’re into modern rock with taste and chops, check out The Racer.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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