Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

February Singles: Garage Rock and Such

March 12, 2015

Garage Rock and Such

1. “Away” – Heart Beach. Heart Beach is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies with this churning slice of plodding bass, washed-out guitar and yearning vocals. A+.

2. “Cavity” – Kuzin. Sometimes the vocal hook that seals it is in the verse, and so it goes with the yearning killer line of this track. You’ll be humming this one for a while.

3. “Gone Past” – Lore City. A lot of people want to invoke shoegaze, but few bands really inhabit the idea of the sound overwhelming a person in their entirety the way that Lore City does here. Slow movement, pounding drums, howling vocals, synth sheen over everything: this is how you create a wall of sound in 2015.

4. “He’s Not Real and He Ain’t Coming Back” – Twin River. The synth-laden, reverb-heavy soundscapes on this track recall the slow motion of the band’s titular geographical features. Let it wash over you.

5. “Wasting Time” – The Phantoms. The alt-rock drama of Anberlin meets Blur influences in vocal delivery for this high-contrast track.

6. “Dotted Line” – Bombay Harambee. Guitar rock with demonstrative, impassioned front men will always have a home. This particular brand makes me think of a slowed-down Arctic Monkeys.

7. “Fourth Quarter Funeral” – Velcro Mary. The thick, bassy guitars in this power-pop song fill up the track, but they never make the song feel leaden. Instead, the track moves sprightly along on a Foo Fighters backline and a snarly vocal line that never explodes.

8. “Universe” – Faith Healer. Some perky garage-rock with a mumbly female lead vocal creates a very cool vibe.

9. “Actual Alien” – American Culture. Scuzzy guitars; gated ’80s drums; distorted, nasally vocals. Sounds like a great entry into American garage rock culture to me.

10. “Time For Us to Move” – Full Trunk. We really should thank the Black Keys for re-popularizing blues rock. There are few ways to vibe harder than on a good blues-rock riff, like the one here.

I NEED GLORIA!

August 15, 2014

I NEED GLORIA!

1. “Whodunit?” – Gentle Robot. GR’s new album of indie-friendly alt-rock a la Silversun Pickups or Anberlin is a whodunit murder mystery. Gentle Robot deftly balances tenderness and aggression via strong lyrical and musical songwriting. Clever, memorable, and novel.

2. “Say Yes” – Afternoons. If you can resist belting out that chorus at the top of your lungs, this blog cannot help you. I’m serious.

3. “Gloria” – Backwords. Item Two: If you can stop yourself from belting out “I NEED GLOOOOOOORIA,” this is probably not the blog for you. Excellent song development from this crew.

4. “Love the Sea” – The Vigilance Committee. Grows from dreamy beginnings all the way to a rhythmically technical post-hardcore section, with some punk-inspired motion in the middle. I love ambitious songwriters.

5. “Midnight:Sixteen” – Tree Dwellers. TD has some weird post-rock/alt-rock/found-sound thing going on here. It’s the soundtrack to a really ominous “getting ready” sequence in a artsy futuristic dystopian action film.

6. “You Come to Kill Me?” – Happyness. Two minutes of pure slacker rock with impressive attention to lyrical detail. It doesn’t get repetitive, it doesn’t ask for much, it just wants to know if you’re there to kill him. Solid, bro.

7. “Monuments” – Haverford. My current favorite emo band mixes vocal desperation, dreamy guitars, and punk intensity for a swirling, whirling track. This release should get Haverford noticed by emo revivalists and more.

8. “Escape” – Dream Boat. The intensity of the forward motion that pushes through this psychedelic track makes it more than just a woozy psych jam or a four-on-the-floor stomper. Heavy vibes here, but good ones.

9. “Love Again” – JOA. Yearning, churning, moody indie-pop from the artist formerly known as Like Clockwork; much more atmospheric than the brash pop music he was previously producing. It’s got some down-tempo groove to it, too.

10. “Dis-Moi Qui Tu Aimes” – The Lovers Key. More rippin’ Motown surf soul from TLK.

11. “January” – Silva. The breeziness of chillwave meets the celebratory vibes of Brazilian music in a fun, charming, beautiful track.

12. “Lovekill” – Anie. Opens with an asymmetric vocal line reminiscent of tUnE-yArDs before exploding into a pop-rock tune with high male vocals; it shifts back and forth from artsy to poppy throughout the track. Really interesting take here.

13. “Oh the Evil!!!” – Michael Leonard Witham. A Dylanesque yawp, pedal steel, brazen harmonica, and a perky overall mood? Yes. Let’s have some more of that.

14. “Shapeshifting” – Sam Joole. This warm, gentle, pristine arrangement that recalls William Fitzsimmons or early Joshua Radin feels lush and full, even though it’s rather stark. Wonderful track.

Nov MP3 Drop Two

November 26, 2013

Lotta good stuff trying to cram its way into 2013! Here’s a varied mix.

1. “No Sleep Tonight” – Family Cave. The precision of indie-pop, the aesthetics of indie-rock, and the mood of indie-folk create an incredibly intriguing tune. Watch for Family Cave in 2014.

2. “Keep It Together” – Decent Lovers. Not a cover of a Guster tune, this DL jam is ironically pretty separated and hectic. It’s held together by a strong mood and a deep internal rhythm. Elijah Wyman is getting better and better at this really unique style of pop.

3. “Travelin’ Home (On Another Christmas Eve)” – Peter Galperin. If you’ve ever wondered what a bossa nova Christmas sounds like, Galperin has got your back with this charming, hummable tune.

4. “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” – Miles Hewitt. Reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s protest rock, Hewitt combines old and new into a hypnotic mix.

5. “Belfast” – William Steffey. Takes cues from Oasis with dashes of Portishead and Blur, this tune sounds completely British but is totally from Chicago.

6. “Heartbreakers” – Tomorrows. The Jim Ivins Band rebrands and revamps, moving from an adult-pop template to sounds more akin to Anberlin’s early modern rock. The prominence of vocal melodies has not changed, which is good.

7. “Love Is Not Allowed” – Gap Dream. Obligatory Eno namecheck. Aside from that, this is a gorgeous, swirling mass of analog-sounding synths, modulated vocals, and electronic drums that makes me swoon.

8. “Get In It” – Nyteowl. Funky, spacey, mostly-instrumental R&B. “Do you want to get in it?” Yes. Yes, I do.

9. “Get Down Baby” – Blacktop Daisy. You’ve got to hand it to a band which unabashedly labels its music disco. No violins here, but those harmonies!

10. “Can’t Let Go” – Black Checker. This pop-rock-punk tune comes from an EP called Fast. Yup, that’s pretty much all you need to know.

11. “The Ah Ah Song” – Stand Up and Say No. I miss the days when The Flaming Lips made jubilant, illogical, bright pop tunes. This joyful, exuberant pop-rock tune is exactly that.

12. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Magi. This Bill Withers cover is minimalist lo-fi glory: the distant recording, the raw passion in the imperfect vocals, the deep sense of mood.

Quick Hits: Self-Evident / The Racer

December 20, 2012

selfevident

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’.)

theracer

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.

The Body Rampant's modern rock has a more-than-Transient spark

May 16, 2011

The Body Rampant‘s Framework EP set down three songs that drew tight connections to Anberlin’s modern rock work. Their new EP Transient Years builds on that EP literally and figuratively.

The band added three new songs to the trio from Framework to complete the six-song release. The new songs fit in nicely with the previous work, not straying too far from the charging guitars/enormous drums combo. There are some nice guitar riffs throughout, but the band isn’t too obsessed with guitar heroics to pigeonhole it over there. The band’s main concern is the interplay between the vocal melodies and guitar melodies, and to that end, they do an excellent job.

The jumping off point for their future is “Living in Spurts,” which incorporates tasteful synthesizer as part of their modern rock mix. It doesn’t turn the song into a dance-rock tune, which is great; it merely provides another piece of the song to enjoy. That’s a sure sign of maturity, to resist hot trends for the sake of your vision. “Indica” does a similar thing, but not to as prominent a role.

Let’s hope that they keep having that vision and grow into it for the long haul. I think they could, as these songs have a spark that not many modern rock bands can harness.

Athletics marry post-rock and modern rock for an adrenalized, emotional experience

January 14, 2011

I don’t review modern rock on Independent Clauses very much. This is not because I don’t like it; on the contrary, I like good modern rock very much. It’s just that there’s not a lot of it to be had. I love everything Anberlin releases, because it has the emotional impact that much indie rock and folk has while still retaining the guitar bombast, cavernous drums and throat-shredding vocals. But most other bands just can’t stay artsy when they throw down a double pedal roll.

Thankfully, Athletics is championing good modern rock in an incredibly subversive way. By marrying the power of modern rock to the melodic thrust of post-rock (which is, as a backlash to modern rock’s posturing, one of the most emotional genres we currently have), they created Why Aren’t I Home?, which is a consistently amazing debut.

The press for Athletics gushes “It’s one of those albums that reminds you why it is you listen to music in the first place,” and for once the music lives up to the exuberant PR.

The band starts off with the title track, which lays down a distant atmosphere before bringing in rapidly arpeggiated, cascading guitar work. The drummer rolls expectantly on the cymbals. A second guitar comes in with a building guitar line. A tom pound punctuates the preceedings, leading to a snare roll. The vocals, clear and strong roar out as a bell kit comes in. The music leads to the breaking point.

and then nothing happens. They pause entirely.

And THEN they bring in the whole band, with screaming guitars, pounding drums, thundering bass to create an absolutely triumphant feel. It’s post-post-rock; it’s music to think about and mosh to. At the same time, if you can.

The band spends the entire album messing with people’s ideas of what rock is. “See You on the Other Side” is a straight-up rock tune, with a cascading guitar line on top of the mix as the only sign that this band isn’t on tour with Anberlin. The song whips into a frenzy by the end, and you’re probably dead if you aren’t excited as well. “Fairview” is a slow, churning mood piece that would be in perfect company with Sigur Ros. “Jordan” is a vocals-heavy indie rock song, honestly. “Lullaby” isn’t a lullaby at all, but one of the most tense pieces on the album, complete with distorted hollering and a crushing sense of doom underpinning the piece.

But it’s speaking for everyone that gives the most shivers (and trust me, I had more shivers listening to this album than I have in any other album this year). It’s a hollowed-out tune, with the vocals reverbed and the guitars amorphously shifting the atmosphere in the background. It’s incredibly mournful, put over the top by the devastating cry “Have mercy/on everyone/but me” which takes over the last minute of the song and turns into an emotional destroyer. Haunting isn’t a strong enough word.

I could write about each song here, but that would be doing the music a disservice. If you like adrenaline and distorted guitars in your music, but can’t stand posturing of any variety, you need to track down Why Aren’t I Home? It’s easily the most emotional rock experience that I’ve ever heard and/or been a part of, thanks to their brilliant songwriting and spot-on execution. This band deserves to “make it,” whatever making it means to them. This band is amazing, and this album must only be the beginning. Please, for the love of all that is good and right in music, stay together, Athletics.

The Body Rampant lays the framework for success

April 14, 2010

It’s really weird that I discovered two bands with the word “Rampant” in their name within a month of each other. It’s not a very common word. The first one I discovered was rock band The Body Rampant, whose Anberlin-esque modern rock shows a lot of promise.

The Body Rampant’s Framework EP contains three songs, and all of them are solid. As before stated, the rock borrows heavily from Anberlin’s ideas on structure and mood. None of these songs evolve (or devolve) into full-out ragers; on the other hand, none of the three drag at all. They keep the tempo fast but not too fast; they keep the emotion high but not over the top.

The persuasive vocals go a long way to selling the rock. There’s yet again more Anberlin comparisons, as the high-pitched (but, again, not too high-pitched) vocals call Stephen Christian’s to mind. There’s a little bit less bite to the vocal work in the three tunes here, but it’s nothing that can’t be matured into. The guitarwork is to be noted; the heaviness contrasted with the melodic quality of the guitars worked very well, especially in “Artax Please!”

I had the feeling throughout that The Body Rampant was almost there. There were the beginnings of good ideas, solid execution, and good melodies. The project needs to mature more, and it will be something great.

If you’re a fan of modern rock with a pop edge, The Body Rampant should be on your list to check out.

Daniel G. Harmann changes up his lush songwriting, but not too much

December 25, 2009

Daniel G. Harmann‘s Our Arms has been kicking around my iTunes far too long without a review. I sat down to listen to it so I could review it, and I realized that I’ve already been listening to it. The three songs on this EP have been through my shuffle, at the end of DGH’s other albums in my iTunes, and generally in my brain for longer than I have realized.

It makes it incredibly easy to sit down and write this review. Harmann’s basic sound is a hyper-romantic, extra-melodic, beauty-washed soundscape; I coined the term “rainy day makeout music” while listening to a Harmann album. That’s just what the music sounds like. This time out, though, DGH has himself a band named The Trouble Starts, making the proper name of this release Our Arms by Daniel G. Harmann and the Trouble Starts. Does the band make a difference in the sound that I so love from DGH?

Well, sort of. Opener “I Became the Ground” is much more upbeat than anything I can remember previously. It still retains the extremely emotional, hyper-romantic vibe, but it’s not as rainy in tone. It’s oddly reminiscent of the jangly pop that Death Cab for Cutie has been churning out these days, and even a little similar to Anberlin’s slower-tempo work. It doesn’t stray too far from the tree, but it’s definitely a new seed in the ground.

“Dee,” however, is a return to normalcy. The song plods along gloriously, with each individual part making stately entrances and exits. The mood is the same one that I have come to know of DGH, and after hearing a deviation from it in “I Became the Ground,” it’s very welcome. The chiming guitar line pushes this song forward as the vocals try to drag it back; the tension makes this an incredibly effective song.

“Knob Creek Neat” is somewhere in the middle. The presence of the Trouble Starts is felt, as there’s a less dreamy feel to the work and much more aggressive moments throughout. But it never breaks the morose tempo that DGH is most comfortable with. The song may be a lot more direct than his previous work, but the Trouble Starts haven’t broken him of slow, dreamy soundscapes: the chorus of the song features his trademark vocal trick (it’s a certain interval jump that I wish I was smart enough musically to name), and the aggressiveness falls out in favor of layered guitar parts and melodicism.

This three-song EP shows that Daniel G. is spreading his wings a bit by heading out with a band in tow. But he’s still the performer that I love, and a couple new members isn’t going to change that. This EP is the best possible way to move forward: one foot in the new, one foot in the old, and one in the middle. I’ll let you deal with the mental image of a three-legged man. Good work, Mr. Harmann. Good work.

Anberlin – Blueprints for the Black Market

July 20, 2003

Anberlin just popped up. I know nothing about them. After listening to the CD through a couple times, I still know virtually nothing about them, cause they didn’t print their lyrics in the CD booklet. That is most definitely a pet peeve of mine.

The cd blasts out of the gate with “Readyfuels” (yes, it’s one word). Heavy but melodic guitars, driving percussion, and great vocals propel this dark track. Then, the gears shift drastically, and the punk melodicness of “Foreign Language” graces the ears. It’s a song by a guy who thinks girls are speaking a foreign language.

“Change The World”, the radio single, is actually an acceptable one, taking the hardness of track one and combining it with the catchiness of two to create a better track. This happens often in the world of indie rock. I call it conglomeration. The guitars are great in this track.

After opening with a heavy riff, “Cold War Transmissions” breaks away from it to deliver a more melodic-based track. Not nearly pop structured, but melodic. “Glass to the Arson” delivers an almost metal riff, while contrasting passionate, nearly screamed vocals and near whispers. One of the most interesting tracks on the album.

“The Undeveloped Story” contains a riff reminiscent of….Readyfuels. The vocals are reminiscent of…Readyfuels. It feels like a remix almost. A spacey sounding keyboard riff opens “Autobahn” which contributes to the whole “sing-along-in-your-car” feel. The only problem is that the chorus stinks. It totally doesn’t fit the song. “We Dreamt In Heist” smacks you in the face with vocals….not even showcasing the lead riff. It has a cool ‘ah’ part, but that’s about it in this song.

A toned down redux of “Cold War Transmissions” ensues, only the name “Love Song” is slapped on it. When the piano kicks in, it’s cool, But only then. “Cadence” feels like a redux of “We Dreamt in Heist”, making a bad song worse. It’s clearly a love song, judging by the chorus, making that two in a row. After a great intro, “Naïve Orleans” pulses back into their clichéd rock vibes. The song isn’t too close to anything, but it just feels overdone by this time in the CD.

In conclusion, the first 5 songs would have made an awesome EP. In tandem with the other 6, it feels long and unexciting, and diminishes the greatness of the first five tracks. It also relays no emotional message….it’s just blah. Less rough than Chevelle with elements of Jimmy Eat World thrown in. 5 out of 10

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

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