The Jonah Project‘s self-titled EP packs more emotional punch into 16 minutes than most emo albums can get into a 40 minute full-length. The quartet, headed up by Drift Wood Miracle‘s Bryan Diver and Jvno‘s Tristan McGee, tell the story of Jonah from the Bible in a powerful, moving way. The EP has four songs, one for each chapter of the book, and each shows off a different side of their sound.
“Jonah 1” is a keys-led piece that leans toward the wistful side of the emo spectrum. The band does ratchet up to some screaming guitar noise at the end of the track, but this one is more focused on the lyrics depicting why Jonah ran and his emotional response upon realizing that he can’t run from God. (It’s a little-discussed element in the story, at least when I was growing up: Jonah expects that God will forgive the people that Jonah hates if Jonah follows through on God’s call. Jonah doesn’t want that to happen, so he flees.) Diver’s vocals lead the way with some dramatic, memorable lines.
“Jonah 2” also opens up with keys, but Tristan McGee takes over lead vocals in a spoken-word format. I tend to hate spoken-word, but this fits over a roiling, churning instrumental mix that feels more like MeWithoutYou than bad stereotypes of spoken-word. The first time I heard McGee holler out in anguish “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” I got shivers. (Even more rare, I got shivers the second and third time. It’s intense.) The winding, syncopated opening guitar riff of “Jonah 3” powers one of the most inventive rock songs I’ve heard in a long time. It sort of feels like The Collection’s rhythmic background, only punctuated with stabs of electric guitar chords and overlaid with chiming, heavily reverbed, floating guitar notes. It stumped my expectations.
“Jonah 4” caps off the set with more interplay between acoustic guitar, chiming electric, chunky chords and even group vocals. The drums are particularly exciting here, as Aaron Allred somehow manages to keep up as the rest of the band whips through mood change after mood change in rapid succession. The lyrics evocatively draw the story to a conclusion, with Jonah struggling to grasp the concept of grace. The whole thing comes together brilliantly, showing off a quartet that’s astonishingly tight for being brand-new. They’re writing some new material, so perhaps we’ll get to hear more from this impressive outfit. If you’re into early ’00s Deep Elm emo (Brandtson, Appleseed Cast, Pop Unknown, etc.), you’ll love this EP.
Daniel G. Harmann has been recording, solo or with previous band The Trouble Starts, for the last 15 years. It is not surprising that Slowing Downspends time exploring and investigating the intricacies of the sound he’s created over that time span. His early days as a lushly-orchestrated indie rock songwriter meet his crunchy guitar side and mingle with the sparseness he cultivated all along the way. What results is a thought-provoking album of distinctive indie rock.
Harmann’s most distinctive feature is his voice: he has a sonorous tenor that swoops, swoons, quavers, and warbles elegantly. He is fond of rapid interval leaps and drops in his vocal lines, which gives his melodies an inherently dramatic quality. In his early work (The Books We Read Will Bury Us), the songs were built around these giant moments, but here Harmann integrates his vocal stylings into the arrangements much more. Opener “Carbondale” buries his voice in a shoegaze-like way under a barrage of percussion and synthetic sonic haze, but that’s an extreme case. “Hesitations” is as much about the martial stomp of the drums and synth as it is his voice; the melancholy of “Volition” is powered equally by the guitar performance and his pipes.
That trio of tunes holds down the rock end of the spectrum here; on the other end lie delicate tunes “Dues,” “Zocalo” and “Tectonic.” Harmann has always shown an affinity for the acoustic guitar and has often released guitar and voice songs (Westroy Sessions); here he’s polished those skills to a shine. But Harmann’s acoustic songs are not standard singer/songwriter fare. The unique vocal melodies he is fond of give the work surprising twists and turns. “Dues” is as pretty a song as Harmann has penned in his long career, challenging my personal favorite “Last Swim of the Year” for the crown.
The central piece of the album is “Endless,” which brings together his rock interests and his beauty-minded writing in one package. It starts off with a brittle, distorted slice of guitar work before dropping into mid-tempo minor-key rock. His voice soars over the guitar twice: once as lead, once as ethereal backup. The ghostly vocals usher the transition from the minor-key verses to the major-key “chorus,” where the gritty guitar returns with a bright, muscly, uplifting vibe. It strongly echoes early ’00s Deep Elm Records work, like the White Octave, Appleseed Cast, and the like. After the chorus, the guitar fluctuates again, sending the song out on a chunky, powerful riff and repeating square synth. It’s breathtaking, showcasing the nuance and thoughtfulness that can come from 15+ years in the game. It’s a bit noisier than his early work, but there’s a direct line between then and now in this tune.
If you’re into serious indie-rock, Slowing Down should be on your to-hear list. Harmann has spent years tweaking and refining his sound, creating a distinct sonic space for himself. Those interested in clear, strong songwriting voices will have much to celebrate in Slowing Down.
1. “Keep It Coming” – Topher Mohr. It’s hard to write a timeless pop song, but Mohr has put together a wonder of a tune that feels like it could have come out of the ’70s AM Radio scene or the mid-’00s MGMT-esque pop stuff. It’s just a great track all around.
2. “Ice Fishing” – The Cairo Gang. The sort of guitar-rock tune that splits the difference between classic rock, Beatles pop, and San Fran garage rock with ease. Between God? and Burger (and its many offshoots) Records, it feels like we’re in a genuine moment for hooky garage rock.
3. “Sugar Coated” – Jessie Jones. It sounds like everyone, from the bassist to the drummer to the vocalist, is having fun on this hooky garage-rock track.
4. “Timepiece” – Ripple Green. Classic rock guitar and vocals meet a radio-ready modern pop chorus, putting a foot in each world.
5. “Dusty Springfield” – The Fontaines. A little bit of indie-rock, a little bit of ’50s girl-pop, a whole lot of catchy.
6. “Long Way Down” – Vienna Ditto. Minor-key surf-punk? Why not? Vienna Ditto own it, complete with whirring organ, honking saxes, and frantic tom rolls.
7. “Big Bright World” – Jeremy Pinnell. This is about as authentic as country gets: western swing rhythms, weeping pedal still, deep-voiced sadness, and a narrator with a former(?) drug problem. Still, the sun shines through, just like the title suggests.
8. “The Night Before” – No Dry County. You don’t have to sound like Bob Wills to catch my ear with a country tune; this modern country tune has a great melody, a solid arrangement, and an evocative vocal performance. It’s like a country Jimmy Eat World, maybe.
9. “Soaring” -WindfallFound. Post-rock of the beauty-inclined variety, complete with distant, processed vocals, Appleseed Cast-style.
10. “She Knows It” – Shannen Nicole. Goes from “ooh” to “whoa” in no time flat: starts off as a dusky torch song, then amps up to a thunderous torcher by the end. A formidable performance.
11. “The Gold Standard” – Marrow. The Hold Steady’s wry, jubilant mantra “Gonna walk around and drink some more” drops the jubilant part here: this low-slung, slow-build indie-rock tune has a woozy calm that belies the sort of difficult, composed walking that comes of one too many drinks.
I had a strange life of music in the early 2000s; my listening habits tied together the fringes of the pop-punk, emo, pop-rock and acoustic scenes. Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good covers the general sound, but I listened to stuff that never made it to the radar. So my nostalgia is not for any particular band, but a sound, and City Reign has churning, yearning, melodic yelp of a sound.
Because I was (and still am) obsessed with Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky,” Deep Elm Records was a staple of my listening in the early 2000s. They’re offering their whole catalog of releases for $5 each for the rest of the year. Top picks: Too Young to Die sampler, There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds, Mare Vitalis by Appleseed Cast, We’ve Built Up to NOTHING by 500 Miles to Memphis. But there are literally dozens of gems in their catalog, so you should just go nuts.
Autumn Owls’ video for “Byways of the Lifeless” caused me to realize that by the mid-2000s, most videos stopped having their credits in the bottom left corner at the beginning. The fact that this one does was a blast from the past in the best way. Also, the hectic sense of motion is reminiscent of early 2000s videos.
Ampline plays the type of music that makes genres irrelevant. You Will Be Buried Here crams 17 tracks of rock, punk, post-rock, post-punk, indie-pop, folk and more into 43 minutes. To say that it defies classification is like saying Picasso is a painter. It just doesn’t do the phrase justice. Ampline plays music, and they do it brilliantly.
The band kicks the set off with the title track, a mellow rumination complete with piano, bell kit and vocals (which are used sparingly throughout). Having known them primarily as a raucously energetic band, this was a bit of a curve, but a good curve nonetheless. After a very enjoyable minute, they shut the tune down and kick into their first distorted tune, “Our Carbon Dreams.”
Ampline’s sound is very simple: a guitar, a bass guitar, a drummer and occasional vocals. They make much out this by limiting repetition of parts and genres. “Our Carbon Dreams” comes complete with ascendant guitar lines reminiscent of early Appleseed Cast. “Until He Wore Out and Died” opens with a complicated, rhythmic bass line and uses it as the jumping off point for an incredibly enjoyable tune. “Vessels of Dead Weight” turns a low-slung riff into a herky-jerky headbanger. “The Electric City” is an almost-optimistic tune with some great guitar work. “Petals” includes sleigh bells in the mix for a different feel.
It’s all held together by a very tight mood that stays strong even when the songs change. Guitarist Mike Montgomery recorded, mixed and mastered the whole effort, and the fact that someone very close to the tunes did the engineering is clear. The mix is pristine, showing off exactly what the band is. The mix is so immediate that it feels as if Ampline is in the room with you.
The songs within are strong, engaging and worth repeating, each emotional in a far more realistic way than Dashboard Confessional or the latest pop/punk band are. They draw the listener in, clearly display an emotion, and invite the listener to experience that with the musicians. It’s this pull throughout the entire album that makes closer “Room and Pillar” the devastating punch it is; after an entire album of tightly-wound, organized music, they lead you out with a single-note melody on a distant guitar underscored by some mumbling. It says volumes with very little, simply because it means something as a piece of the bigger whole.
It is incredibly rare for a band to have talents this strong at each instrument, and rarer still for them to have interlocking chemistry as tight as Ampline’s. This album is striking; even as a person who listens to music all day every day, this album grabbed me from the get-go and did not relinquish my attention until it was over. This is easily one of my favorite releases of the year; I’m sad that I didn’t hear about it until just now. You Will Be Buried Here is a spectacular achievement.
Dorena‘s About Everything and More is the type of post-rock I love. Clean, single-note melodies traipse about hopefully on top of a yearning rhythm section, building to the big payoff. The best moments of early Appleseed Cast (“Fishing the Sky”) and Unwed Sailor’s whole discography play with the ebb and flow of hopeful post-rock, and Dorena is taking their place next to Moonlit Sailor as my favorite up-and-coming post-rock bands. It’s no wonder that they’re both on Deep Elm Records; when those guys decide to do a genre, they do it up right.
Dorena lets loose from the first song: “The Morning Bus” sets a groove with a bass line, augments with distant atmospheric synths, introduces an intricate-but-casual-in-intensity drum beat, drops in crunchy but not overblown guitars, sprinkles some clean guitar melodies on top, then garnishes with some wordless ohs. They build it up to the payoff, where the melody comes via synth AND guitar in over the top of a crushingly distorted rhythm guitar while the drums spazz out (but without losing the overall sense of wonder). It’s a veritable blueprint of a great post-rock song. They’ve either done their homework or been born to play the genre. Either way, the listener wins.
If you like optimistic, building post-rock, get your hands on Dorena’s About Everything and More. You will not regret it.
I am a big fan of compilations. Twenty or more bands to check out at once in a format that plays them end to end while I chill? Yes please. On Joyful Wings‘ compilation We Were Lost, We Were Freeis the best compilation I’ve ever heard, bar none. It even trumps Deep Elm‘s enormously influential Too Young to Die; seeing as I discovered my favorite song of all time via that comp (Appleseed Cast‘s “Fishing the Sky”), please know that I’m endowing an immense amount of praise in those words.
The reason it’s the best ever is because out of the 21 bands featured, there’s only two bands whose offerings I didn’t enjoy. Furthermore, I was inspired to go get more music from eight of these bands. Add in the fact that I already own music by three of these bands, and you’ve got an 11/21 conversion rate. That’s enormous for a comp. Mostly I find one or two bands off a comp that I enjoy enough to follow. These guys know what’s up when it comes to tracking a comp.
The bulk of the tracks here are gorgeous, flowing acoustic tunes; there are a couple indie-rock tracks, an indie-pop song and an excellent pop-punk tune by Chasing the Sky, but other than that it’s all acoustic. Holcombe Waller contributes “Risk of Change,” which has brilliant melodies, solid lyrics and a contained energy that makes the song infectious. I’ve listened to it 22 times already. I’ve also listened to “Umbrellas (Acoustic)” by Sleeping at Last 22 times; the track itself is gorgeous in its construction, and this acoustic version translates beautifully.
Carl Hauck‘s “To Coast” was written specifically for this comp, and its optimism through depression sets the tone for the whole album for me. Ikaik offers up a soul-crushing (yet still beautiful) tune that contradicts that last statement, as there’s little hope in the lines, “you can hate me/you have got the right/and when you leave tomorrow/don’t say goodbye/and don’t try to change my mind.”
TW Walsh (ex-Pedro the Lion) contributes a really nice change of pace with a goofy, upbeat tune; Tom Hoekstra reinterprets “Be Thou My Vision” excellently; Josh Woodward goes all Depression-era troubadour tales on us; Fireflies offers a beautiful “fields at dusk”-type piece; and Jeremy Larson leads off the set with an impeccable piece of melodic, cinematic pop.
If a 19/21 success rate and a 11/21 conversion rate aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that you get all that plus contributing five dollars to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation should pique your interest. Great tunes and a charitable feeling in your soul. At this point, your only question should be “why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?” and the reason for that is that I’m a jerk. and I’m busy. But mostly a jerk.
But seriously, get over to their Bandcamp page and download it. You will not regret it if you like acoustic music. It’s an absolutely incredible collection, and I absolutely can’t wait for their next project, which they’re already working on. I promise I’ll tell you about it quicker next time.
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.
I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.
Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.
They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.
They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.
Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.
This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.
Post-hardcore, as I define it, is hardcore music with emotions and melodies running through it. These emotions present themselves through singing, yelling and spoken word (as opposed to the traditional screaming, growling and roaring of pure hardcore). The melodies come through in the guitars or in the vocals.
Inside that definition, Hands is a pretty fantastic post-hardcore band. They have the heavy guitars and occasional low-throated growl of hardcore, along with other hardcore aesthetics. There aren’t many blastbeats, but there are some pretty heavy sections. Contrasting against those incredibly heavy moments are pieces of heartbreaking beauty, like the acoustic-driven “Communion” and the single electric guitar of “Ignorance.” Continue readingGive Yourself a Hand(s)…
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.