Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Self-evident's indie-rock is nigh on perfect

March 7, 2010

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there’s indie and there’s independent. Indie is a culture; independent is a status (you are signed or independent). Both have only tangential relevance to indie-rock, which is a particular type of rock. Lazy journalists use it as a catch-all, but when they say “the new big thing in indie-rock,” they really mean the “the new big thing in indie culture.” And that could be (and has been!) anything from scarves to bandannas to high-hat dance beats to optimism to cynicism and on and on.

But there really is an indie-rock sound. It’s characterized by a rock’n’roll set up, with at least some drums, a guitar and a bass. Chords are used in unusual ways, rhythms and melodies are experimented with, and songwriting structures are composed in non-traditional ways. There’s intensity, but it doesn’t make a habit of the lightning tempos of punk, the brutal intensity of metal, or the macho posturing of rock’n’roll. There are quiet sections, but it doesn’t turn into the cute moods of twee, the forlorn sounds of folk, or the giddy shine of indie-pop. It’s middle of the road, if the road was on someone else’s map that you couldn’t see. It’s emotionally tempered rock’n’roll with thought. There’s artistic ideals fused into it.

The reason I spend the time to explain my definition of indie-rock is because Self-evident plays indie-rock. If a person came up to me and asked me what indie-rock was, I’d point them to Endings as a beginning. Then I’d give them the history lesson. But on a time crunch, Self-evident’s songs would work.

That’s not to say that Endings is generic or wishy washy. On the contrary, the musical vision of the three men in Self-evident is laser-guided. They cull most of their aggression from the vocalist, who hollers as if he were in a punk band, while they pull their melodies from the incredibly tight interplay between the bass and guitar work. The two musicians weave rhythms and melodies together in a fascinating and mesmerizing way, often resulting in beautiful harmonies that take the ear off-guard. The power comes from the drummer, who pounds away as if he were in a straight-up rock band. And the parts, which don’t seem on paper to blend well, mix gloriously. This can only be the result of hours and hours of practice and songwriting.

And when “The Future” comes over the speakers, I’m immensely glad that the band took the time to be precise. The song is the epitome of the last paragraph; the tight rhythms and harmonies scattered throughout the piece demand to be carefully listened to. There are sections that thunder with a dissonant intensity, but it gives way to a peaceful, lullaby-esque melody to close out the piece. It’s simply astounding. It’s like if the Appleseed Cast wasn’t prone to distorted freak-outs, or if Unwed Sailor had lyrics, or if MeWithoutYou had gone all indie-rock instead of all post-hardcore.

“Everything All at Once” has a similarly powerful and beautiful sway. This one’s pretty section overpowers the intense section. It gives in to the ominous “Temporary, Confused,” whose use of background vocals and insistent drumming make it another standout. The glitching “At Last” threw me for a loop for a second until I understood what was going on; it’s one of the most complex and heaviest of the bunch, but it also features one of the quietest sections on the album.

This is not an album that you slap on in the background of your life. This is music to be appreciated. Endings is an album of eleven tunes with nothing left up to chance. Every turn is meticulously planned and plotted, and the result is a brilliant album that holds attention melodically, rhythmically, and mood-wise for almost forty minutes (longer, if you repeat songs – as you should). This is a stand-out release in every sense of the word, and I hope that people will release that and lavish the praise this album so rightly deserves. I mean, who else in the world is going to write a song as ambitious as “Apprentices,” and then make it sound easy? No one. Get this album now.

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

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