The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” (and by extension Hot Fuss) was at the fore of the dance-rock craze, so it made sense for people to ignore the fact that half the album can’t be danced to at all (“All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Andy You’re a Star,” “Everything Will Be Alright,” among others). Instead, the Killers just wrote good, hook-laden pop-rock songs. The The The Thunder has a similar thing going on in their debut All at Once: there are some danceable moments that are easily latched onto, but the majority of this is indie rock.
“Indie rock” quickly becoming a synonym for “melodic rock that wants to be taken with some amount of seriousness,” and that holds for All At Once. The eight songs here feature a vocalist with a tonal resemblance to Brandon Flowers, a bevy of instrumentalists that know their way around a melodic hook, and a mood that hovers just above “serious music.” (Radiohead this isn’t; neither is it Hot Chelle Rae, however.) The highlight is “Hands Together,” a tune that mixes vibraphone, distorted bass, squalling guitar and a frantic vocal performance for a gripping tune. Other tunes draw off the power of group vocals (“Pound for Pound”) or sparse arrangements (“Hey Forever”), while maintaining a mix between serious aspirations, pop melodies and danceable moments (you know, for the kids at the live shows!).
Some will be put off by the vocals (shades of Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah creep in), while others will not like the fact that this sits between easily categorizable idioms: there’s not really a summer jam here, but this isn’t moody thinkpiece music. It will be interesting to see if The The The Thunder continue to explore this vein, or if they move in one direction for their follow-up release. They’ve got a good start going here, so I’m interested to see where they go.
Friendly Psychics Music is one of my favorite record labels of all time. It is basically composed of Chris Jones, John Wenzel, and their group of friends. People are occasionally grafted into the group, and each friend gets their own project name. The Jones/Wenzel aesthetic is extremely idiosyncratic, in that I could recognize an a FPM release in less than ten seconds, even if I’ve never heard it. Their vaguely psychedelic, fractured folk and indie rock is incredibly unique and difficult to break into, but it’s rewarding once you do.
Derecho is not far outside the FPM model. Dropped at 10,000 Feet features Dan Miller (a major player in the FPM catalog, although not as forefront as Jones/Wenzel) as the primary songwriter, with Jones on bass and Wenzel contributing on only two songs. Miller has a much more honed pop aesthetic than Jones/Wenzel, and that makes the songs on this EP some of the most straightforward indie-rock tunes that FPM has ever released.
It doesn’t mean they’re normal (I don’ t think FPM does normal), but they’re a lot more accessible than flagship artist Dishwater Psychics. Miller strums his guitar consistently (something that is taken for granted until you hear FPM artists that, well, don’t) and has driving bass and guitar to back it up. Miller’s vocals and lyrics are also much more caustic and bitter than Wenzel’s mournful baritone and overarching sense of disdain, giving the release a distinctly different attitude than other FPM releases.
The songs move quickly and induce head-bobbing, but the caustic delivery of the vocals may turn some off, especially in the self-loathing “Canadian Whiskey” (which, for the record, is my favorite type. I’m drinking some now, in honor). The highlight here is closer “Measured in Millions,” where Wenzel contributes vocals. Wenzel’s voice has become a part of my musical consciousness, but it’s almost always used in jarring and abstract atmospheres. Hearing it paired with the driving, reverb-washed indie-rock of Dan Miller’s invention is incredible. The two pieces fit together perfectly; if Wenzel had sung on each of the tracks on this EP, it would have been even better than it is now. Maybe that’s the next project?
Derecho’s Dropped at 10,000 Feet is a good turn for the FPM guys. It’s not my favorite release by them, but it certainly is high on my list. Reining in some of the more aesthetically challenging parts of the FPM ourve was a nice change. If you like cerebral indie pop (like Grizzly Bear, Beach House, etc) or off-kilter vocals (Modest Mouse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, etc, although Miller is nowhere near as grating as Alec Ounsworth), this should be one to check out.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.