I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the best sitcoms on TV right now because it’s nothing but a sitcom. It has a laugh track, quirky characters, and pretty much one situation for the entirety of its existence. In this era of mockumentary sitcoms, dramedies, and other innovative comedy programming, the best comedy is one that doesn’t break any rules. It just does the old rules really, really well.
Bottle Up and Explode‘s Kingsley is the audio analogue of The Big Bang Theory. Bottle Up plays mid-tempo indie-rock that’s well-informed by ’90s pop and ’00s indie-pop melody structures. There are guitar solos (check it, “We Just Want a Party”), Strokes-ian jangle (“Summer in the South”) and tension-laden sparse sections that recall U2 and Bloc Party (“Breakfast”).
What it all adds up to is “Axiomatic,” which features an upbeat riff and perky drumming overlaid with a twinkly guitar line in the verses before blasting into a synth and “yeahiyeahiyeah!” chorus. It’s the sort of song that you swear you’ve heard before, but know you haven’t. It’s the sort of song that propels an EP to the front page of Purevolume.com.
But the songwriting isn’t the only feature that sets this apart. If a song is one part what you wrote and another how you played it, Bottle Up has both sides covered. The tunes here are pulled off with a swagger that sells it easily. Vocalist Chris Cargile has a voice that conveys emotion and enthusiasm without losing the sense of cool that is fundamental to his timbre and Bottle Up and Explode’s sound. Cargile doesn’t sound disaffected, he sounds measured — excited when it’s exciting, chill when it’s chill. Yes, like the name.
The six-song, seven-track Kingsley (“Axiomatic” gets an acoustic version) is a blast to hear. Bottle Up and Explode is in firm control of its sound, and that allows them to do thingswith it instead of be at its mercy. Summer may be ending, but parties don’t, and I can hear “Axiomatic” at your next (and next and next) shindig. Jump on this.
I love discovering a battle of the bands. As an underappreciated music blogger, I find a lot of great music simply because I’ll go and listen. Sometimes there are terrible bands surrounding the diamonds, but Auburn UPC’s recent battle had a stacked line-up that provided a wildly entertaining evening. Their excellent choice of emcee in Brandon Crocker also helped create a splendid evening (no lame jokes! yes! yes! yes!). All six bands were worth noting, so I’m splitting coverage of Friday’s event into two days.
Just Marked played some modern acoustic pop, heavy on the falsetto. The band played together well, both on originals and on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I’m not the biggest fan of cajon, but the performance was solid.
Bottle Up and Explode, who I fell in love with a couple weeks ago at Eighth and Rail, were a pleasant surprise in the second slot. They brought their Bishop Allen/Strokes-ian indie-rock/indie-pop to the stage with energy. (The lead guitarist got especially into it.) It’s just really, really fun to watch Bottle Up play — you get to sing along, shimmy a bit and smile tons.
The earthy, rooted sound of Gypsies With Knives graced my ears next. With powerful, clear vocals and great instrumental interplay, the band creates a neat mix between jam-band, southern and shanty rock.
Last Saturday, August 20, I went down to Eighth and Rail and saw Bottle Up and Explode release their EP Kingsley. Nashville’s Eastern Block and Atlanta’s Ocean is Theory supported. Bottle Up and Explode’s release is on my to-do list. Click the pictures for the full sizes.
Eastern Block’s bassist.
Eastern Block’s vocalist/guitarist.
Ocean is Theory setting up. I really enjoy taking pictures of bands prepping.
Ocean is Theory getting into it.
Ocean is Theory really getting into it.
Bottle Up and Explode loading in. Then my camera died, because I’m bad at judging my camera battery.
So I’ve arrived in Auburn, AL, which means I have a whole new music scene to discover. The early frontrunner for band with the best name is Bottle Up and Explode, closely followed by The Bandar-Log. I’ll be seeing Bottle Up and Explode Saturday (hopefully).
But the first local band I saw in Auburn was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Yes, Jason Isbell (ex-Drive By Truckers) is from North Alabama, which makes him local enough for me. He showed up minus a guitarist that was on the poster, but hey – I wasn’t familiar with Isbell or DBT before this show, and I didn’t notice the hole.
The audience, however, was familiar with his DBT work (the crowd loudly requested and then went nuts for “Outfit”) and his new stuff. His rootsy, folkier stuff held the audience in sing-a-long thrall, while his more Southern rock-tinged stuff seemed to lose some of the audience hanging out on the fringes of the venue.
I was one of those wallflowers, most impressed by the tender folk-pop of “Alabama Pines.” Isbell’s descriptive, emotional storytelling was best displayed on quieter tunes like these. His engaging between-song banter made the show even more enjoyable. All in all, I’m very interested in checking out “Here We Rest,” Isbell’s new album.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.