Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Laura and Greg / The View Electrical / Dan Webb and the Spiders

July 9, 2015

foreverforsure

The acoustic guy/girl duo is an old, old form, but the beauty of intertwined vocals almost ensures that it will never fall out of use. Laura and Greg‘s Forever For Sure lives happily and easily inside the bounds of that genre, delivering chipper, charming indie-pop songs. The easiest comparison is the Weepies, with whom they share a predilection for precise, staccato rhythms and stark framing of individual melodic elements. But where The Weepies are titularly mopey, L&G are more sprightly in tempo and mood.

While opener “Muscle Memory” and the title track make use of wistful guitar and fragile voice, tracks like the handclap-laden “Pennies” and the woozy ’50s charm of “Fireflies” evoke the enthusiasm of Mates of State. “Undertow (water waves)” is a strummy tune that draws off some country vibes, even. But it’s in their intimate moments that they shine brightest: “Same World” is a joy to behold, with their two beautiful voices blending and swirling over a meticulously picked guitar. Muscle Memory is fresh, vital, and warm, the sort of work that makes you forget about the difficulties and injustices of life for a while. Who doesn’t want that?

roseland

On the other end of the spectrum from Laura & Greg in the indie world is The View Electrical, a dreamy band that can drift around calmly or ratchet up to post-hardcore thrashiness (complete with screaming).

The trick they pull off in Roseland is making all of their motion feel seamless: opener “Haunted by a Dream” turns a cascading acoustic guitar line into a lead guitar line by lifting it in the mix above groove-laden drums, treble-heavy pad synths, and grumbling bass. Within a few more seconds it has exploded into multiple vocal lines (including a scream) before closing. They may throw the kitchen sink at this record (the second song opens with a glitchy electro-pop clicks, the third with four-on-the-floor dance-rock beats, the fourth with delicate acoustic picking), but the strong engineering job and distinct vocal approach keeps this from being a mishmash.

Where the mixing pulls out all the stops to lend coherence to the sound, the vocals float along blithely, seemingly unconcerned by the herculean task that they’re given. Leading a band with the ambitions of The View Electrical is not easy, but the vocalist does it. My favorite of his approaches is somewhere between Surrounded’s whisper-singing (“Haunted by a Dream”) and Sigur Ros’s aria-esque delivery (“It Was Time”); it’s airy but grounded, breathy but solid. It ties together the many parts of The View Electrical’s sound neatly. Even when a more direct tonal approach is called for in songs, the singer seems to corral the disparate parts of the sound and marshal them in the listener’s defense.

Towards the back half of the album things get a little more straightforward and aggressive. “Death and the Young Man” is laden with aggressive beats, dropping out the lightness of the first few tracks; “In My Defense” and “Protect Us” are dissonant and heavy. Still, even in tunes as minor-key and ominous as “Protect Us” there’s a break from the gloom in the way of a dreamy guitar layered on top. The band returns to the Surrounded-esque rock/dream-pop by the end of the record, showing the minor-key sections to be part and parcel of their omnivorous approach: the thrashy, post-rock/post-metal moment of “We Won’t Stay” is dropped right into the middle of one of their most beautiful (9-minute!) songs. It’s similar to how Sigur Ros uses heaviness, but that doesn’t make it feel any less impressive or unexpected.

Roseland is an extremely ambitious record that succeeds on many levels. If you’re into thoughtful music that doesn’t bother with labels (indie-pop, indie-rock, electro, post-rock, post-metal), you’ll get a lot of listens out of this record.

danwebb

I’ve sung the praises of pop-punk many times before (including quite recently); still, it’s moved into a legacy spot in my heart. I cover the occasional single and video, but covering full releases is rare these days. But you can’t leave your sonic or physical friends behind (isn’t this the moral of all early 2000s pop-punk/emo?), and thus I’m here to tell you that Dan Webb and the SpidersPerfect Problem is rad. If you’re into snare-heavy pop music with enthusiastic melodies and excess adrenaline played very loudly, you should look it up.

Perfect Problem hits right in my sweet spot: pop-punk that has enough meat to not sound like an airy pop-rock tune a la Boys Like Girls but enough melodic bonafides to stay away from ragged hollered/screamed vocals a la the Menzingers. Even the tougher vocal performances here (“Night Games,” “The Neighborhood”) rough up the tone a bit but never sacrifice a charming melody or ubiquitous, spot-on high harmony. Even crunchy songs like “Moment,” which was recorded by inimitable Steve Albini, balance the brittle distorted guitar chop and thundering back-line with other generic influences: there’s a ’50s-pop influence in the rhythmic patterns, guitar solo, and soaring chorus vocal line. It’s these subtle influences and recording flourishes that give this a volume and depth separating it from streamlined, radio-friendly pop.

The highlight is the title track, which combines all of the best parts of Dan Webb’s sound together: infectious melodies, charging guitars, harmonies, and an upbeat vibe. If you’re into pop-punk with just the light scrubbing of grit, Dan Webb is on your team.

Cash Cash's dance-pop falls this far from being absolutely killer

May 9, 2011

I knew the first time I heard the “ra-ra-ah-ah-ah” riff of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” that it was going to be an enormous smash. It has the unnamed x factor that makes pop songs into classics.

Cash Cash‘s “Love or Lust” has ten tunes in the Cobra Starship mold that all have the ability to be minor radio hits. But there’s not a track here that has the x factor. I only bring it up because every song is so close to having it. I don’t usually listen to dance-pop, because the majority of it is bland and formulaic. Cash Cash’s is not bland, and if it’s formulaic, it’s the formula listeners want. But there’s no go-for-the-throat melody, riff or hook here.

“Wasted Love” shows great promise through the verses and bridge, but the chorus is too soaring and sultry for the down’n’dirty mood. “Sexin’ on the Dance Floor” acknowledges that it’s a straight-up club jam, and the verses crackle with tension. But the chorus spins a bit too far into pop-punk to fit the tune perfectly. “Naughty or Nice” has the same tension bristling the verses, but the pre-chorus and chorus drops the energy with their choice of atmospheric synths instead of straightforward ones.

“Dirty Lovin'” is the most honestly techno tune here, and it’s a highlight. It’s like Cascada with a dude singing, and I like it. Again though, the charm is laid too thick on the pre-chorus, giving it a winking, pop-punk, Boys Like Girls attitude. It’s so incredibly close to being a killer.

“One Night Stand” has all the musical parts, but the lyrics are brutal (“Don’t touch my heart/I told you from the start/I’m only looking for a one night stand”). I don’t put it past the modern public to like harsh songs (I already quoted a song called “Bad Romance”), but this one is nearly unpleasant in its callousness.

You’ll have bits and pieces of these tunes haunting the aural part of your brain for days. But you won’t find a whole song that just won’t leave your ear.  I hope Cash Cash keeps making songs, because they have all the pieces here to make a whole string of hit songs. They just need to spin the BINGO tumbler once more and get a new combination of pieces. It’s a bright future for Cash Cash, if they can get there.

The Shoreline produces a stellar pop-punk cover … and some other songs

July 23, 2010

I used to hate covers, because I thought they showed a lack of originality on the part of a band. Now I see that in addition to paying homage to a respected band, a good cover can be just as creative (and just as satisfying, if not more so) than a good original.

That’s why The Shoreline‘s cover of “I Gotta Feelin'” is my favorite track on their EP Fake It Till You Make It. Their cover re-envisions the party anthem as a pop-rock anthem. They remain faithful to the lyrics, mood and song structure; they just infuse the tune with a lot of guitar strumming and a pop-punk high-pitched voice. And while some covers become cloying in their pandering (someone played me a copy of a “Tik Tok” pop-punk cover that I could barely make it through), The Shoreline’s version of the Black Eyed Peas tune doesn’t get repetitive, annoying or gratuitous. It makes the point, slams it home and gets on to the next thing. It’s great. I like this song just as much as I like the original version, for completely different reasons. That’s the mark of a great cover.

The rest of the EP doesn’t have anything that possesses that sort of clarity and focus. As a result, the tunes are difficult to remember and just don’t make a big impact. If you like current pop-punk (e.g. Boys Like Girls, Angels and Airwaves, We the Kings, Fall Out Boy – especially in “Let’s Make a Mess”), you’ll like The Shoreline. But they won’t be your favorite band off the strength of this EP. Perhaps they have more in the tank, and they’re just getting started from here.

For now, I highly recommend “I Gotta Feelin'” to anyone and Fake It ‘Til You Make It to fans of the genre.

I Can Hear Myself Levitate delivers a memorable, creative, genre-mashing EP

May 25, 2010

There are residual benefits to not listening to the radio. I don’t get overexposed to songs, so I never tire of good tunes (I still love “I’m Yours” by Jazon Mraz months after people can’t take it anymore; ditto for “Hey Soul Sister” and “Beautiful” by Akon). I also never get burned out on genres. If you’re making good pop-punk, I’m still able to rock out to it; I haven’t been burned out by its overexposure on radio.

Which is probably why I’m so enamored with I Can Hear Myself Levitate’s EP What is Left. ICHML has a sound that incorporates AFI’s darkly theatrical musical bent, Coheed and Cambria’s prog leanings, the high-pitched vocal preenings of Fall Out Boy and a low-slung form of guitar-centric rock’n’roll. They even dabble in some post-hardcore at points during the album. If heard with an uninterested ear, it wouldn’t sound much different than anything else on radio. The ear would hear the chunky guitars in the choruses and dismiss everything else that’s happening. And that’s sad, because ICHML have a lot more to offer than simple Boys Like Girls/Angels and Airwaves songs.

Take “Body Heat,” for example. The song sets up a distinct mood from the get-go, setting up the fast-paced drums against a moody, wiry guitar line. They pump it up for the chorus, but they never let the mood of the song change from an insistent, dark, patient piece. Mega props to the guitarist for not letting the song change mood. Its unique feel even amongst the tunes here gives it “standout track” moniker. “The Artifacts” plays with similar moods, but it doesn’t do it as effectively, as the song relies on the vocals instead of the guitars to create the mood. The vocals are great, but the evocative and pensive type of vocalist is not the type of vocalist they possess. Thankfully, they catch this by the end of the song and feature some tight guitar work in the back half of the tune.

“Eskimo Kiss” features jagged, intricate, organized rhythms against a smooth vocal line; the juxtaposition is immediately memorable. The vocal antics are especially memorable here as well; you can almost see the vocalist leaning out into the crowd and gesturing wildly. It’s another excellent song.

What is Left is a great EP. I Can Hear Myself Levitate presents a good snapshot of who they are and what they can do. The only thing I can particularly complain about is that the vocal style is very much a love it or hate it proposition. From beginning to end, they show instrumental chops, songwriting skill, creative energy and passion. What else could you want out of a rock band? Not much. If I Can Hear Myself Levitate gets to the right ears, we could have a serious contender on our hands. Watch for them.

Pull a Star Trip experiment effectively, yet never lose their core pop sound

March 18, 2010

Pull a Star Trip’s E-vasion Inn is one of the more ambitious acoustic projects I’ve heard in a while. Instead of being content to be an acoustic guitar-fronted band singing pretty songs, they set out to fill their songs with memorable touches: background screaming, songs in other languages, electronic beats and more. For the most part, it works.

The base sound isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. The members of Pull a Star Trip strum their acoustic guitar a lot, stick drums/bass behind it and augment with strings. They sing loudly and passionately, occasionally sacrificing tunefulness for impassioned cries (a la Places You Have Come to Fear the Most-era Dashboard Confessional, which is a compliment). The songs are all worthy of singing along, and some are even worthy of headbanging.

On top of this tried and true base, they layer their personality. The screaming is the most recognizable bit. They do have the sense to always keep it at the same monitor level as background vocals; it’s never in your face. That’s good, because it’s straight-up hardcore/metal raspy screaming. It’s used to good effect in the dramatic “My Last Wish Shall Be a Time Machine,” but in the Jason Mraz-esque “Co-driver,” it just feels really off. By the end of the album, I’d heard it so much that it pretty much registered as static and not as a meaningful element any more.

“Senal” is their offering in another language, and it’s a lush, gorgeous tune. The strings, piano, and electronic elements implemented work together excellently, and the hushed vocals only intensify the mood. The fact that it’s in a cryptic (and therefore, intriguing) language makes it even more fascinating. They do break back into English for the chorus, and that chorus is the best one of the album, as it makes great use of melody and rhythm. “Senal” is definitely one of the most memorable tracks, even though it’s incredibly challenging to sing along with (as you might imagine).”Los Rojiblancos” is in yet another language, and its rattling, consistent Spanish groove and excellent trumpet work creates another winner.

The majority of the album passes in a propulsive yet still breezy mood. If any number of pop/rock bands busted out their acoustic chops more (Boys Like Girls, We the Kings, Yellowcard, etc) but did it with legitimacy and not as a cheap ploy, it would sound similar. As it stands, the sound is similar enough to stuff that’s on the radio to be immediately accessible but different enough to be immediately embraced and enjoyed with out guilt. The large emphasis on strings should make fans of Yellowcard sit up and take notice, while the emphasis on fast, breezy but still intense songs should make fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin sign on.

This album is highly recommended for fans of modern pop/rock. It will fit nicely in your collection while filling a space that’s been abandoned since Dashboard Confessional abdicated their spot as kings of acoustic rocking (and, no matter what they say, the Honorary Title is not taking the crown).

The Bright Light Motion plays competent pop/rock that doesn't break the mold

March 10, 2010

I love pop music. I proudly claim the All-American Rejects as fellow Oklahomans, I get down to We the Kings and Boys Like Girls, Snow Patrol are my boys, Gavin Degraw is the man, etc. etc. But it’s really, really hard to do well. That’s why bands appear for one good song, then disappear (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Anyone? Eh?). You have to be a genius songwriter or have an outside angle to hook people if you’re going to be in the pop/rock genre.

The Bright Light Motion is a band of good musicians. They write competent tunes that would fit in well on radio. But they don’t have an outside hook (Snow Patrol’s accent, peculiar instruments a la Cake or Yellowcard, theatrical songwriting twists a la Panic! at the Disco, dance beats a la everyone on the radio right now) to set them apart. Their four-song EP For All the Right Reasons passes pleasantly but not impactfully. The best moment comes in the end of “Wither,” where they drop out the guitars and bring in the choir of chanting hipsters, which segues into a neat whoa-o section with a cool synthesizer. They’re tried and true pop tricks, and BLM uses them to good effect. If it ain’t broke…

“Oceans Away” is a mid-tempo headbobber that shows off the vocals but doesn’t push any boundaries. “Love Wakes the Dead” starts off with a nice little riff and a vaguely danceable drum beat, but it crashes back into chord-mashing mode for the chorus and kills whatever momentum the band had built up creatively.  The song serves as a sign that The Bright Light Motion has some songwriting chops waiting to be released; they just didn’t get into this EP.

There is not a thing wrong with The Bright Light Motion. The vocals are good, the recording is tight, the songs have melodies to hum, and there’s more than enough charm to go around. But it just doesn’t add up to anything out of the ordinary. And that’s the hardest curse to break.

The Holiday Electric's pop/rock is slick, melodic, and well-done

February 23, 2010

The pop/rock that The Holiday Electric plays is slick, tight, and melodic. The only problem is that is has no element to call its own. There are many other bands playing pop/rock just like this: We the Kings, Boys like Girls, Augustana, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, etc. This doesn’t mean that the band will not be successful.  It just means that if you like this type of music, you’ll be on board with The Holiday Electric. If you’re not, then The Holiday Electric isn’t going to convince you.

Each of the four tunes on their self-titled debut EP culminate in towering choruses with pounding drums, skyscraping guitarwork, and thrumming bass notes. Knowing that doesn’t dismiss the joy that comes from hearing the songs; The Holiday Electric creates songs that tantalize you with the chorus. They build the tension to the point where it’s almost palpable (see “Heart Attack,” where they actually pause the song), then let you have what you want. It’s great.

The distinguishing factors between songs are neat: “Heart Attack” has a heavier guitar riff at the beginning of the song and a piano bridge before returning to power-anthem mode. “Til the River Runs Dry” features no electric guitar in the verses. “Perfect World” has a piano base and the best vocal performance on the EP. And that’s saying something, as Chris Woods’ voice is clear, bright, not helium-high, and not the least bit annoying (hallelujah! hallelujah!).

This is pop/rock, pure and simple. It doesn’t aspire to be anything else, and it succeeds admirably at its mission.  The songs are good. If you’re the type to get into pop/rock, you should get their EP (which they’re giving away as a pay-what-you-want download) right now. You will be hearing more about The Holiday Electric.

Bittersweet fiction from TGL

October 6, 2009

There’s nothing more disappointing then coming across a new album that you love, only to find out the band is no longer “together” only a year after the release of their first album.  So goes the story for the pop-rock band from DePauw University, TGL.

Released September 23, 2008, the band’s debut album Sweeter As Fiction has the same appeal as bands such as Boys Like Girls, The Starting Line, and Cute is What We Aim For.  With upbeat, catchy tunes, you’ll for sure want to dance to this solid ten-track record.

Favorites on the record include the opener “Beauty School Dropout” and the following song “Valleys.”  With lyrics like, “Don’t worry baby I’ll leave the light on/Just so you know/It was burned out long before you got home,” the band is a sure to draw in youthful listeners.  A pleasant surprise is the tendency of the lyrics to be fun and catchy, yet devoid of the overly “emo” feeling of many similar bands.

Despite the likability of Sweeter As Fiction, the failure of the band to remain together seems to serve as just another example of the cruelty of the industry.  After nearly six years of playing together, TGL officially parted ways in April of 2009, despite having been one of MTVU’S picks for “Artist of the Week.”

TGL seems to have fallen into the category of groups that cannot fully cross the “bump of originality” in the road to success.  Too often talented groups seem to fall apart, not because they don’t have quality songs but because they lack a uniquely original, overall sound.

A quote from the “About the Band” section on TGL’S Myspace states, “”No matter how great things can get….you always have to remember that things change, nothing is forever, except, death. However.​.​.​ with death…comes new beginnings. A resurrection, if you will.”

Maybe we haven’t heard the last from these guys after all.

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

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