Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-April MP3s: Pop

April 15, 2016

1. “Whistling Your Name” – Cadence Kid. Even in the inundated field of electro-pop, some things still stand out: Cadence Kid’s staccato opening synth salvo here grabs attention, and the chorus solidifies the interest.

2. “Are You Real” – The Gifted. There’s some seriously funky bass lines going on in this otherwise smooth electro-pop jam. Happy Friday.

3. “Never Gonna Learn” – Ded Rabbit. The Vaccines + Tokyo Police Club = “Never Gonna Learn.”

4. “Hello, N.S.A.” – Rock, Paper, Cynic. A hilarious power-pop parody of a love song (and of our current political state) that chooses as its object of affection the National Security Agency. To catch the attention of the beloved, RPC mentions just about every potential word and phrase that might catch the attention of the agency. Don’t try this at home?

5. “Chasers” – The Academic. The Academic continues that never-ending stream of UK outfits keeping that guitar-rock dream alive, following Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, and the like.

6. “Downstairs” – Castlebeat. The helter-skelter guitar of hyperactive indie-rock meets the drum machines and synths of ’80s new wave to create an oddly dancy, fun track that seems familiar in all the right ways.

7. “Why” – Amongst All. Brash, upfront pop-punk in the early ’00s style: “Feeling This”-era Blink and the like. If you love new bands that take you on memory trips without being derivative or boring, this track should push the buttons for you.

8. “Derby Girl” – The James Rocket. Jangly, ’90s-style indie-rock that sounds more like indie-pop today. Whatever name you call it, it’s quirky, jumpy, and fun. TJR is the sort of band that good-naturedly makes self-deprecating Guided By Voices jokes.

9. “Decisions” – Fire Hot Opera.  I don’t usually cover this sort of funky, soulful work, but there’s something electric about the combination of vocalists, the jazz-inspired instrumentation, and the energy of the track that just draws me in.

10. “JAKL” – Bellwire. Slacker rock has never sounded so tight and fresh: Bellwire manages to sound both immaculately put together in the arrangement and lovably shambolic in the lyrics and vocal performance. Radness.

11. “Holiday (Feat. Caroline Mauck)” – Don’t Chase Felix. Sometimes you just need a breezy, sunny, lovely pop song about going on holiday. Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

500 Miles to Memphis builds out their sound even more, showing off songwriting chops

December 11, 2014

standthereandbleed

The first two 500 Miles to Memphis releases I reviewed reveled in their country-punk genre elements. Fiddle, pedal steel, and frantic tempos all clashed and meshed and bashed and had a party. In Stand There and Bleed, the band has matured into itself, making fewer overt gestures to the genres they’re inhabiting or bending. This results in expert songwriting that is both incredibly situated and widely diverse.

First things first: frontman and songwriter Ryan Malott has expanded his lyrical repertoire. Sure, there are still a number of collapsed-or-collapsing relationship tunes on this record (including one simply titled “Alone”), but “Medication” is a touring song, “You’ll Get Around” is a song of advice to a sister, and “Takes Some Time” is – get this – almost a love song. If there’s change, it starts at the root, and the root of 500 Miles to Memphis is its lyrics.

From there, the sound has gotten more comfortable in places and expanded in others. “Medication” still falls squarely in the country-punk genre, with supercharged tempos, galloping drums, and wild lead guitar meeting for an excellent take on the country-punk genre. “How Would I Know” is one of the most torrential salvos of punk anger and energy I’ve heard 500MTM release–there are references to the chugga-chugga of hardcore punk in the bridge. It all sounds supremely assured: nothing is out of place in these tunes, but nothing sounds overpolished either.

The polish is saved for a later collection of tunes. In the same way that Blink-182 tempered some of their snottiness for the power-pop gems of their self-titled record, Malott has channeled his pop inclinations into a trio of tunes: “Bethel, OH,” “Easy Come & Easy Go,” and “Takes Some Time.” “Bethel, OH” is a gleeful rumination on the follies and foibles of youth steered by an effervescent, memorable chorus. The ’80s guitar-pop vibes of “Easy Come & Easy Go” make me think of Cheap Trick at its finest, while the staccato opening riff of “Takes Some Time” pleasantly shocked me in its relationship to those of classic rock mainstays Styx. (As a person who has purposefully attended a latter-day Styx concert, this is a positive reference, I swear.) The band rocks along perfectly in each of these tunes, not sounding out of their element in the least.

That’s not even the most compelling switcheroo the listener is privy to on the record: the last quarter of the record consists of three straight-up country tunes. “You’ll Get Around” is touching in its earnest pleas for a sister to make something of her life, sold beautifully by Malott’s excellent vocal performance and the band’s striking ease at back-porch banjo-pickin’. “Easy Way Out” is more ominous in tone, but it’s perhaps even more impressive in its arrangment. But the piece de resistance of their roots revival is the six-minute “Alone,” which starts off as a swooning lullaby before building to a pounding, towering, full-band crescendo full of frantic drums, searing organ, and overall band theatrics. If it’s not the closer of the live show, it totally should be. It doesn’t beat the 9-minute “Everybody Needs an Enemy” off We’ve Built Up to NOTHING in scope, but it trounces it in terms of impression.

Stand There and Bleed is, to me, an unlikely title for this record–especially considering that there is no title track. The lyrics do have more sturdiness to them, more recognition of the realities of pain and more appreciation for the joys of life. But the music covers so much ground that there is no time to stand still as a band or a listener. Stand There may not be the release that’s heaviest on the country-punk genre markers, but as a musical effort, it’s an impressive, diverse, striking record. Highly recommended.

Quick Hits: Gold Beach / Cartography

May 22, 2012

The rock of Cartography‘s Rasputin 7″ combines elements of post-punk, post-hardcore and garage rock for a fascinating amalgam. The title track starts off at a garage rock jaunt with vintage ’00s devil-may-care vocals before breaking down into a post-hardcore half-time section; then it takes off into a melodic section with a shuffling drumbeat and a straight-up guitar solo. Totally not kidding. The whole thing is pulled off with composure, maturity and melodic flair; there are vocals, but they’re only there when they need to be. The same is true of the singing in b-side “Shasta,” which starts off in profoundly melodic post-rock mode before jumping into a more garage-y state. But it’s never the snarl and gasp of The Vines or the Hives; Cartography is much too poised for that. I suppose some would see that as a detractor, but it does nothing but impress me. The vast amount of influences drawn on and referenced make me want to hear more from the band. Cartography does what it wants on Rasputin, and what it wants is completely great and worth following closely.

Gold Beach‘s self-titled EP fits into the serious indie music vein that The National and Bon Iver have made a career out of, combining the weighty arrangements of the former and the high vocals of the latter with burbling synths to create an engaging listen. The six songs create their own world for 23 minutes, and whether or not you want to inhabit their mood should be decided by what you like your pop songs to do for you: this skews much closer to art than “Call Me Maybe.” “Skin of Yours” showcases their sound best, while the driving “Diving Bell” is another highlight. These Austinites get gravitas, and so those in favor of serious music will find much to love.

FFHH tries to break from the pop-punk mold

November 19, 2009

I grew up listening to pop-punk, so I have a fondness for it that goes far beyond the marginal toleration most reviewers give it. I also grew up listening to local bands from faraway places like Baltimore. So, FFHH (which is now going by the abbreviation of their former title Faster Faster Harder Harder) has several legs up on the competition with their Baltimore-based pop-punk.

FFHH is much more AFI than Blink-182, though. The lead vocalist occasionally strikes an almost uncanny resemblance to Davey Havok, especially in “Calm Down,” “My Vision” and title track “All the Lights.” When he drops into his lower register, it’s not as apparent, as in “The Landing.” When his vocals don’t ding the RIYL meter in my head, the musical resemblances to A Fire Inside fall away as well; but the music is not strong enough to withstand the vocal tone similar to Davey Havok’s to stand out while that vocal tone is happening.

That’s one of the strengths and weaknesses of this album; it’s easily taggable within the dark punk zone. There are conscious steps outside it, as “Start Again” is a lumbering, epic-sweeping intro track that features female vocals prominently. “Accident Scene” features a different vocalist, an upbeat tone, and more female vocals. “Count Down” is a five-minute instrumental track that never gets boring. It fits perfectly in the flow and feel of the album. And it segues right into “The Landing,” which is one of the best tracks on the album. If they can put together more songs like this, they’ll be very successful. The melodies are solid, the bass work is tight, the drums are efficient, and the guitar work is mood-building and rocking in turns. This is how they should be composing all the time.

FFHH has a lot of promise. They are skilled musicians, and their ability to form melodies is undeniable. They have the skills necessary to be a great rock band, but they need to get over some blocks in their way. Several tracks on All the Lights are excellent, but they’re held down by a bunch of songs that are just okay. I would recommend that you go see a live show of theirs (because this stuff would have to translate excellently) and download “Count Down” and  “The Landing” from iTunes. If you like AFI, you should definitely invest in the full thing; you’ll love this. I’m interested to see where FFHH goes from here.

Beautiful Lies plays it a little safe

November 4, 2009

For a ’90s kid like myself, Boston-based Beautiful Lies sounds like a blast from the past that I can actually remember. The mainstream music of the ’90s has been subject to (unproductive?) debate, but it can’t be denied that this time period popularized fuzzy garage sounds and the pop-punk category. Beautiful Lies’ revival of the ’90s in their most recent release Yeah, Finally will remind many listeners of this era, but whether one wants to be reminded of awkward roller-rink birthday parties in elementary school is a question yet unanswered.

Yeah, Finally opens with “The End,” ironically, which takes a much bigger cue from alt-country than the rest of the album, and from the group’s previous releases. The very first words, however, don’t let the listener forget that they are listening to a faithfully pop-punk group: “‘You’re an asshole’ was the last thing that she said.”

The up-tempo sing-along “Running Down the Aisles” is more typical of Beautiful Lies, with its persistent drumbeat, tantalizing hooks that lead into catchy choruses, a breakdown three quarters of the way through the song, and slightly formula lyrics. Like much of Yeah, Finally, this song is a bit predictable, but also quite easy to find yourself singing along to before it even ends. “Untitled” seems to take note of this, with its repeated request for the audience/listener to “sing along if you know what I’m saying.” New Found Glory and Blink 182 are channeled in “Running Down the Aisles,” but “Untitled” has more of a minimalistic, power-chord Weezer feel.

“The Answer is Always C” has a sarcastic and caustic tone that can also be found consistently throughout, but its scorching guitar licks and heavier emphasis on punk make this track stand out. Another noticeably different song is “One Thing,” a cutesy plea for people to be nicer to each other (“I wish my waiter could be more polite/ I mean how hard is it to smile?”). The song has some potential, but its collection of clichés and easy rhymes are groan-worthy even before it breaks the fourth wall (“I just want to be clear/ I’m gonna put a new verse here/ but only when I’m sure/ the words will mean a little more”). However, the slower tempo, delightful harmonies, and simple, no-fuss style still make this song worth a listen.

Yeah, Finally, overall, is fun, but also safe. I’d like to see Beautiful Lies take a risk or two, and shake things up lyric-wise.

Autoexciter doesn't exactly excite

October 30, 2009

After nearly five years since their last full-length album, 2009 plays host to a new album from the band Skychief. Based out of Akron, Ohio, Skychief is the kind of band you would expect to discover at Warped Tour.  The new album Autoexciter is a testament to this with 13 tracks of hard punk rock.  Of the 13 tracks, 75% of the sound is generic.  While the songs are not necessarily bad, the majority of them won’t leave a memorable tune in your ear.

After nearly a decade of playing together, the four members of Skychief have created an album that shows influence from bands such as Kiss and Smashing Pumpkins.  Also noted is the resemblance to the earlier days of Blink 182 on tracks like “Desire.” Although lacking some of the clean and developed sound of Blink, Skychief has two vocalists that play off each other well on the tracks.  However, the vocals focus more on the “scream-singing” style and suffer from occasional pitch issues.

An interesting addition to the album is the song, “Naughty is Nice.” The song begins by channeling classic rock vocals that exude a more mature sound than the garage punk vocals of tracks like “10 Hours.”  The last minute of the song goes into a short speech set to a rock instrumental, and it actually works for them.  Following up on the inventiveness of this song could be the key to help Skychief break away from common rock clichés in the future.

Doctor's Order: don't forget to take your iron(y)

March 2, 2009

Heavy distortion paired with lazy vocals suggest a Death Cab for Cutie influence on Lakeherst’s debut album Euan Aura. The overall sound is interesting, although perhaps familiar.

“Summer Fires” is a standout with an added female vocalist. The beginning of “Fall Back to Me” opens with solid drum set-up and a driving electric guitar, but can’t overcome their own lyrics. They are just a tad too literal; a dash of irony could pull the whole thing together. This is the case for many of the songs on the album. They are pleasing musically, as the sound is tight and accessible, especially on songs like “Messages across the Waves” and “The Bad Sleep Well.” But lyrics like “The ocean is our messenger/destination we don’t know/we’ll watch our words get swept away/by the undertow” threaten to spoil the forceful guitar solo that follows on “Messages across the Waves.”

The last half of the album is notably better than the first, as the lyrics fade behind the heavy percussion and solid guitar licks. In places, these two qualities are reminiscent of  Blink-182.

As a debut, Euan Aura is worth its weight in shiny round plastic material, and at least four of the songs will make their way into my music library for further enjoyment. Lakeherst has a musical talent (and a really lovely cover, done by their own Cody Moyer). With some attention to lyrics, they could make an impact.

Songs you shouldn’t ignore: “The Bad Sleep Well,” “Don’t Walk Around Barefoot,” “No Protection in Silence”

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

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