Greg Hughes’ Among Giants songwriting vehicle took him from a folk-punk solo act to a full-distortion punk outfit pretty rapidly. Since Among Giants now doesn’t function as a folk-punk outfit, he took things back to his roots with a new album and a new name. The diverse acoustic-based songwriting of Weeds In Your Garden by Bobby’s Oar will satisfy folk-punk purists and adventurous folk fans.
The standout cut here is opener “In the Woods,” which marries a rapid-fire folk-punk strumming pattern to a meandering vocal line that’s heavy on pathos and melody. Hughes grows the song from that intimate opening to a blown-out full-band chorus that includes horns and a shout-it-out punk choir. I couldn’t avoid humming the “whoah-oh” line for days. Hughes’ lyrics have always been deeply introspective without getting cloying, and he fits a fresh set of similar concerns to the work here: The mid-tempo folk explosion of “I Find Comfort” details the difficulties of moving cross-country; the back-porch picking of “That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man” is a exposition of optimistic existentialism (which has philosophical forebears that don’t include Camus). At the other end of the spectrum, Hughes screams his voice ragged on the aggressive crumbling-relationship tableau “Heart.”
Thoughful lyrics, heart-on-sleeve narratives, sonic rage, and melodic charm are the recombinant building blocks of Weeds in Your Garden–“It’s a Vice” is a lovely acoustic indie-pop song that Hughes screams over most of. If you’re into Andrew Jackson Jihad, Attica! Attica!, or Nana Grizol, you’ll love Bobby’s Oar.
The two new songs from IC faves Among Giants on this split with Aspiga turn over a new leaf for the band. AG has been mostly an acoustic-punk band (with the notable exception of the screamy “There Is a Ghost“) until 36 seconds into “In the Jungle,” where the drummer hits a downbeat and a crunchy distorted guitar line crashes in. Rhythmically the song remains an Among Giants tune, with a lot of staccato hits and separated notes. Greg Hughes’ speak-sing delivery is also retained until the very end, where he cranks it up to a ragged scream for emphasis.
That ragged scream warms up the listener for “I Care About Everyone I Meet,” which is a straight-up punk-rock tune. The only thing that connects “I Care” to Among Giants’ back catalog is the positive lyrics present in both. The song is strong and enjoyable as a punk song, but even the rhythmic style of the tune has a whole different feel. I like both of these tunes a lot, but this might signal the end of acoustic-heavy tunes like “A Letter” and “Get Your Shit Straight.” Alas, nothing stays the same but change. Here’s to the new sound of Among Giants.
It fits that they’re splitting with Aspiga, a gruff, tough, gritty pop-punk band. Both Aspiga tunes feature metallic bass tone, chunky guitar riffs, and tense moods. I’m not a huge fan of screaming in punk songs (that’s ultimately why I ended up writing an indie-pop blog, after growing up on pop-punk), but Aspiga does it tastefully in “Direction.” They bust out a synthesizer for “Old Hobbies,” which impressed me a ton and took me back to 2003. Their half of the split is fun and enjoyable for fans of the genre, although long-time readers of IC may not be into something so gritty and tough. You can pick up the 7″ over at Say-10 Records.
I love alliteration, so here’s some of that in this mix of MP3s.
Acoustic April Mix
1. “Honeycomb Heart” – True Gents. A magnificent chorus powers this indie-folk tune from a unique Scottish outfit.
2. “Leave Me Where I Want to Be” – Safe Haven. Front-porch intimacy flows through this combination of New Orleans jazz and Appalachian Americana.
3. “Grew Up Here” – The End of America. Appalachian harmony and a rootsy instrumental arrangement make this an irresistible nugget.
4. “Maybe It’s Best” – Justin Heron. Shuffle snare, bright guitar tone, and whispery vocals? Yup, I’m in.
5. “Sharks!” – Common Shiner. This band’s website is SayNoToBadPop.com. That’s awesome. Their acoustic-fronted power-pop echoes Something Corporate and Motion City Soundtrack.
6. “Pretty Face” – Among Giants. I love the vocals here: raw, passionate, and real.
7. “Playing Pretend” – Joshua Steven Ling. The deeply saddening passing of Jason Molina has gotten me back into slow-moving, quiet, morose recordings and their particular type of beauty.
8. “The Lionness” – OfeliaDorme. On that note, here’s a beautiful cover of my favorite Jason Molina song.
9. “Myopic” – Jura. Transcendent beauty that invokes The Album Leaf’s sense of patience.
Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.
I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among Giants‘ Truth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.
Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.
Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.
They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”
For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.
It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.
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.