Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Bellfuries / Kyle and the Pity Party

July 29, 2015

bellfuries

The BellfuriesWorkingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.

By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.

kyleandthepityparty

On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.

McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.

It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.

June Rock List

July 3, 2015

June Rock List

1. “Whine of the Mystic” – Nap Eyes. Major-key guitar-rock infused with so much martial tension from the drums and the wavering high guitar part that it feels like it is always about to explode–with the exception of the preternaturally calm vocalist that tethers the tune the ground. The tune never explodes in giant guitar fury. I’m impressed.

2. “Getaway” – Jaill. Bass-heavy surf-rock that eschews much of the whining treble that categorizes the genre: suddenly, it just sounds like tip-top driving pop-rock music.

3. “Be What You Are” – The Cairo Gang. The less garage-y garage rock gets, the more it sounds like ’60s rock and pop. This has Beach Boys, Beatles, Kinks, and more influences crammed into it. Rock on.

4. “Incarceration Casserole” – Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Uncorked James Brown-esque soul/funk complete with sax meets blast-off ’50s rock in a high-energy blender of a song that’s about not knowing how to make food and eat because his wife is in jail. This is the first time you’ve heard a song like this.

5. “Creature” – It Looks Sad. Every now and then a punk song jumps out of the ether, slaps me across the face, and demands that I cover it. This one, with its towering choruses, huge-yet-not-abrasive guitars, and early ’00s/White Octave-esque emotional palette did that to me.

6. “Kashyyyk” – We Take Fire. A mind-bending genre blender of a song that combines post-rock, post-hardcore, dance-rock, and Coheed & Cambria-esque flights of fancy into one massively headturning rock song.

7. “Smokesignals” – The Feel Bad Hit. Here’s an punk-inspired instrumental rock tune that has nothing post- about it: the band just crushes it without vocals. ‘Nuff said.

8. “Love Like Crazy” – Jessica Lee Wilkes. Wilkes offers up some sax-powered, vaguely surfy vintage pop that sounds fresh as anything.

9. “Crossing on a Bend” – Bourbon Street Beat. Not a big rockabilly fan? Try this track, which includes enough modern melodic sentiment to seem less uncomfortably foreign and more exotic and interesting.

10. “Port City” – I Am the Albatross. Buoyant acoustic rhythm guitar, crunchy electric guitars (complete with guitar solo!), jubilant chorus, creaky vocals, big drums: this is an old-school rock tune, y’all.

11. “Business” – The Good Field. I have an ambient understanding of what ’70s AM radio rock sounded like: warm, major-key, fuzzed out, concerned with formal songwriting tactics, and generally hooky. The Good Field fit my impressionistic ideas of what that style sounded like to a T.

12. “Aubrey” – Lake Malawi. Low-slung but still peppy, chilled-out but still energetic, this sounds like a Strokes-ian indie band accidentally getting lost in ’80s radio pop and emerging with an artifact that isn’t either genre, exactly.

13. “Young” – Kyle and the Pity Party. This song declares “I’d do anything for you/I’d even listen to Brand New/if that’s what you want me to.” Without waxing poetic about the early 2000s (Deja Entendu forever), I can confidently say that this sort of emotional rock and roll is a direct descendant of that scene (with some of the angular edges worn off).

EPs: Drift Wood Miracle / Midway Fair / Eoin Glackin

October 8, 2014

driftwoodmiracle

Drift Wood Miracle impressed me from the word go, and every interaction I’ve had with them or their music since then has only grown that admiration. The Between Three & Four EP takes their disparate ideas (punk, artsy emo, acoustic singer/songwriter) and melds them into a cohesive experience that ranks with some of the best artistic rock music being made today.

“41 (Blue)” starts off with morose vocals over dreamy guitars (emo revival!) before seguing into a snappy acoustic singer/songwriter section; it shifts into an arty, woozy, vaguely psychedelic coda, then closes with traditional classical piano. If you’re scratching your head, no shame there. It’s only held together by force of Drift Wood Miracle’s collective will. The band then smashcuts into the raging punk/emo track “Typical,” complete with their quickly-becoming-signature sliding guitar riff style. The type of guitar work here makes me immediately think of verse/chorus/verse style of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday, but they subvert those markers of familiarity by not complying with that standard songwriting style. Instead, they throw riff after riff, never returning to any of them. You can make three or four songs out of the ideas in “Typical,” especially if you include the pensive guitar ballad at the end. If you’re not impressed at this point, this type of music probably isn’t for you.

In the rest of the all-too-short EP (12 minutes?!), we get a spoken-word French section, a squalling instrumental emo breakdown, group vocals over an acoustic guitar in a haunting melody, the drummer singing a song he wrote (!), more piano, complicated drum rhythms, and a towering post-hardcore wall of guitars. It’s a tour-de-force collage of sounds and ideas that all come together in a consistent mood. Drift Wood Miracle has come into its own here, asserting their innovative artistic vision with impressive maturity and clarity. Between Three & Four is a dizzying, astonishing performance that will make you want to play it over and over.

midwayfair

Midway Fair‘s 2011 offering The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak leaned heavily on traditional English folk rhythms and melodies, throwing in some Springsteen-esque chug to cap it off. On their latest EP Most Distant Star, the band has grown into its sound quite a bit: the influences are still there, but they’re much tighter wound around each other. The result is a sharp four-song outing that gives me a feel for what Midway Fair is trying to accomplish as a band.

The opener/title track starts off with a strong piano riff and brash male/female vocals. By the middle of the first verse, they’ve introduced galloping drums to speedily pace the tune. They build the song throughout to a great, pounding high-point at about two minutes in, showing off their instrumental chops (those drum fills!), songwriting ability, and style. It’s a great song, totally appropriate to be the title track. The quartet keeps that energy and passion going through the rest of the EP, not letting any track drag. “Gone to California” features folk-style storytelling lyrics on top of a jaunty backdrop. “Ones and Zeros” incorporates some ’50s pop influences, while “Be What You Like” loops in some light soul and funk elements. It’s fun to see a band that’s comfortable with itself start to push the boundaries of its sound.

Midway Fair’s Most Distant Star may have started out as a folk EP, but by the end it morphed into a quick sampler of American pop music. Their tight instrumental interplay results in a light mood throughout: none of these tunes sound forced or heavy. If you’re looking for a fun pick-me-up today, look to Most Distant Star.

eoinglackin

Eoin Glackin also sounds like an amped up version of himself on his new EP Pretty Girl. While the title track is a smooth adult alternative cut in the vein of David Grey, the other three tracks are louder, faster, and fuller than Glackin has experimented with in the past. “Morning Take Us Easy” turns rumbling toms into a punk-inspired, push-tempo pattern in the chorus; the bass, guitar, and speedy vocal patterns follow suit, making this somewhat like a Frank Turner song or a Ryan Adams song on speed. There’s still harmonica and piano in there for sure, but this ain’t your usual laidback singer/songwriter fare.

“Ride It Out” expands the sound even wider, pulling in some widescreen soundscapes reminiscent of U2. Glackin gets a tenor howl going on against a reverbed guitar riff–I can totally see him throwing his head back and going full Bono on it. He fills out the EP with a punchy alternate version of “Rain Finally Came” from his previous album, using the drums and bass to once again help create the energetic vibe of the tune.

Sometimes an artist loses all their charm when they “go electric,” but Glackin is able to transfer his appealing aspects to the new situation and incorporate new tricks. His vocals are perhaps even more suited to the electric style than the troubadour folk he was previously doing. Pretty Girl is a fun, exciting EP that shows a new direction for Glackin that could pay off in spades.

Drift Wood Miracle’s emo-revival offerings are passionate and impressive

June 4, 2014

There’s a lot to be said musically and sociologically about why the emo revival is interesting, but spilling that ink here would do a disservice to Drift Wood Miracle. Even if DWM is the band that has me thinking about it, I think it’s more important to note that this quartet has instrumental chops, songwriting skills, melodic prowess, and the earnest passion to pull it all off. I caught their live show at Kings Barcade last Saturday, and the performance was electric.

The quartet features a relatively traditional setup: two electric guitars, a bass, and a drummer. One of the guitarists and the drummer trade lead vocals, which is only one way the band adds diversity to their set. The band does a great job of covering the acoustic/rock/punk/post-hardcore spectrum, as their set featured highlight moments or songs in each of those genres. They’re comfortable with fragile, gentle emoting and thrashing, technical post-hardcore. “My Condition” handles both extremes with ease, but they can express the emotions on their own as well; “Solum” is a beautiful, tender ballad that sounds like the work of a veteran group of musicians.

It’s one thing to make a racket with walls of amps and speakers, but it’s quite another to resist rock’n’roll and mic your 65-watt amps. The little amps that the members of DWM put on stage thrilled me for a variety of reasons: it nodded to the punk “make do with what you’ve got” ethic, underscores the lack of pretense in the band, shows that the talent here is not just a function of nice equipment/recording, and displays the youth of members. To be this talented while still be in high school is rare indeed.

Many emo bands can be less than energetic live, as the band just stands there. Drift Wood Miracle wasn’t going all Rites of Spring on us, but they definitely showed their passion for the music throughout the set: guitar waving, stomping around the stage, and some passionate jumps (not to be confused with theatrical “rock jumps”) made me feel like I could do more than bob my head to the music. It was a good feeling to watch a band be moved by their own music and then feel the desire to move with it too. This is by no means a new thing–I’ve been moshing and dancing and jumping and bouncing at shows for years. But Drift Wood Miracle got me into it, and that’s a thing worth praising.

Drift Wood Miracle’s rock/punk/emo is impressive and worth checking out. Appropriately, a guy in the audience was wearing a Brand New “Fight Off Your Demons” shirt (The hook in the raw “To Endeavor” contains a modified Brand New quote, even). If you’re into that Brand New/Thursday/early ’00s emo sound, you’ll love Drift Wood Miracle.

Quick Hit: Haverford’s Spirit Bear

January 17, 2014

haverford

I came of age in the early 2000s, when Brand New, Thursday, and Taking Back Sunday were all making hay. I was drawn to Brand New the most, as they tempered their blazing vitriol with (somewhat) nuanced emotionalism. Gosh, those songs still give me shivers.

Anyway, I’ve got a decade-plus crush on emo bands that try to tie artistic ideals to the frantic passion of youth. Haverford‘s Spirit Bear helped me get a fix recently. One need look no further than opener “Anxious,” which turns a quiet, American Football-esque emo-scape into a churning riffer by the end of three minutes. The rest of the album tracks the highs and lows of that sound, full of melodic textures throughout. Fans of emo revivalists Football, Etc. (what is it with football names?) will find much to love here. It’s a beautiful record that doesn’t try to make everything sound exactly perfect, which charms me all the more. You know who you are–go get this.

Quick Hit: The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

August 8, 2013

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is playing a quartet of dates with my early 2000s heroes Brand New soon, and that makes perfect sense. Whenever, If Ever is a volatile record, swinging from forlorn guitar/voice arrangements to all-out screaming over punk tunes to slow churners that are guilty of being under the influence of post-rock. The band pulls off the whole album with a consistent emotional ethos: even at its most turbulent, a conflicted optimism (neatly encapsulated in the band’s lengthy name) makes its way to the forefront. Just as a bonus: there are horns and group vocals intermittently. If you’re into punk-inspired ’00s emo, this a band you need to know. They’ve got a fresh take on the genre.

Max Bemis Forever: The Truth Hz/Drift Wood Miracle

June 10, 2013

I’ve never been a huge Say Anything fan, but from the songs I’ve heard, an indelible print has been made of Max Bemis’ voice. His way of melding singing, yelling, screaming, and talking into an idiosyncratic vocal style has stuck in my mind. The Truth Hz and Driftwood Miracle both incorporate elements of Bemis’ style into their music, so I thought I’d bring them to your attention in the same post.

truthhz

The Truth Hz is a pop-punk band that musically hails back to the early 2000s, when chunky, low-end-heavy guitars were the ideal type. None of those airtight, treble-heavy six-strings that are so common in current pop-rock are included on Get Over It. This one is loud and proud. Layered on top of this beefy backdrop is Ryan Stoll’s voice, which incorporates the muscly singing-to-screaming section of Max Bemis’ voice.

Stoll puts a lot of emphasis on the tone and delivery of his words, which is another element that points toward Bemis’ work. Note how in the end of “The Truth Is…” Stoll modifies the tone and volume of voice to get the desired effect out of the words; it’s a strong tactic, and one that made this stand out to me. Stoll is a storyteller on top of being a songwriter, which is something that a lot of pop-punk bands miss. Even if the “plot” is loose, Stoll guides the listener through the song with the contortions and distortions of his voice. It’s just a ton of fun to listen to. And in pop-punk, where any minor tweak on the sound can be the difference between catching my ear and sound like everything else, having a confident, mature vocalist fronting the outfit helps a lot. Fans of summer music, you should be checking this out.

North Carolina’s Drift Wood Miracle does not play pop-punk; they play piano-led indie-rock. The band just released “Mountain,” the single off their upcoming album The 21st. Lead singer/pianist Bryan Diver leads the tune from near-silence to loud to near-silence again, before exploding into a roaring coda that sees him hurling his voice around in a very Max Bemis-ian, angsty sort of way. The lyrics are a cryptic but relatable story of personal struggle and failure, couched in metaphors reminiscent of Brand New’s work. I’m a huge fan of Jesse Lacey and co.’s early work, so I’m totally on board with a little bit of obscurantism in the lyrics. The tune is a fascinating one, and I look forward to hearing what the rest of the album turns out to be.

Drift Wood Miracle – Mountain from Gracie Diver on Vimeo.

Keeps' songwriting carries a torch for thoughtful rockers

December 4, 2011

I’ve been a fan of Josh Ramon’s work since 2006, when I discovered his bands Theanti and Lamps on the label Inderma Music; I liked them so much that it appears I reviewed their Dot With a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP twice. (I liked it more the second time, apparently.)

Ramon is back with one old and one new collaborator as Keeps, and the band’s sophomore album No Bridges has been keeping me off-guard for the last few weeks. Ramon and co. are comfortable playing both improvised indie-rock and the traditional, song-based variety, and Keeps is the latter: The arrangements are comparatively tight and song lengths hover around four minutes. The big difference from then to now is the weight of the songs.

The band still has elements of their erratic, spontaneous self of old, but No Bridges incorporates those elements into thoughtful songwriting and deft atmosphere control. Excellent use of abrupt entries and exits makes opener “Cantland” and closer “Arkansas Blackbird” into the highlights they are: sections roil and churn in guitar sludge, only to snap into wiry riffs before blasting off to more sections of rock. The forlorn guitars/distant vocals/pounding drums outro of “Arkansas Blackbird” is one of the more haunting ends to an album I’ve heard this year, especially since it appears suddenly.

There are some songs of both sides of the spectrum: “Midwest Urn” is a raging rocker that makes me think of the thoughtful anger of late ’90s and early 2000s post-hardcore. But even that song has a slow section toward the end before picking up for the conclusion. “Someone Wanted More” is a pensive, acoustic-led post-rock-type piece, albeit with some distortion and dissonance thrown in to keep the vibe going.

No Bridges works better as a whole album, like the aforementioned late ’90s post-hardcore and similar-era math rock. I didn’t really listen to music in theose genres for particular songs: I listened for how the music felt and made me feel. (This is the argument Chuck Klosterman makes for ’80s metal, and, by extension, pretty much all music in Fargo Rock City.) Post-hardcore’s aesthetic of getting the emotion down instead of being technically perfect is big here as well; Ramon’s oft-desperate, impassioned voice is a great emotive vehicle. He ekes out some memorable melodies (“Arkansas Blackbird”), but the more important thing is that it all sounds slightly unhinged (the ironically titled “Stayble,” “Old Tangled”). Whether leading with an acoustic guitar melody, an erratic guitar line or churning distortion, No Bridges seems teetering over the edge of something.

Keeps’ No Bridges reminds of the early 2000s, when dark, heavy, thoughtful rock was trying to maintain artistic integrity by staving off those who would turn it into emotionally abrasive hardcore, simplify it into pop-punk, or become whatever Brand New is now. But the “everybody else” sides of the sound won, leaving pretty much only Thursday to carry the flag for thoughtful, aesthetically-refined rockers. Keeps does not sound like Thursday, nor does Keeps have a telegraphed political bent. However, the aesthetic ideals seem correlated, and it’s really encouraging to hear Keeps go to bat for loud, intricate, thoughtful rock without pretension, irony or coat-tailing in some other genre. Highly recommended.

Download “Someone Wanted More.”
Download “Its Hard when Its So Easy.”

Caterpillar Tracks and Arms Exploding rock out on a rare split 7-inch

February 18, 2010

CaterpillarTracksArmsExplodingPhratry Records‘ release of split 7″ albums is a show of faith in the importance of rock and roll. Seven-inchers are pretty much most inefficient mode of releasing music there is: two songs on two sides of vinyl.  The rare band and label that still puts money into pressing 7″ believes not only in the particular band being pressed, but in the importance that a single song can have. Is releasing one song by two bands each important? Most say no. Phratry Records says, “Eff yeah!”

So, for the next three days, we’ll be featuring the three latest Phratry records releases, which are all 7″ vinyl. This first one is a Caterpillar Tracks/Arms Exploding split, with the A side being CT’s “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team” and the B side being Arms Exploding’s “Of Luxury & Branding.”

Caterpillar Tracks’ post-punk offering here is cemented by a pounding, staccato rhythm that becomes a head-bobbing groove after the ears get accustomed to it (and there’s plenty of time to normalize it, as the rhythm forms the basis for the entire song). The guitars squiggle, squirm and leap over it, making dissonant melodies and odd rhythms over the insistent thrum from the rhythm section. The vocals are a clear, undistorted yell; there’s no rasp, nor is there any hysteria in the screaming. The vocalist is passionate, but he doesn’t portray it by getting crazy. This song is relatively short, unfortunately, but it makes a big impression. I loved “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team,” as it reminded me of what Deep Elm Records’ Red Animal War and what Brand New could have been like if they had they taken a slightly harder route out of Deja Entendu.

Arms Exploding’s track is much less contained than Caterpillar Tracks’ tune. The thrashing punk of “Of Luxury & Branding” features cymbal-heavy drum work, shrieking guitars, wild yelling, full-out screaming, slashing rhythms, and lots of distortion. Where Caterpillar Tracks’ sound was contained and insistent, Arms Exploding is wild, frenetic and barely controlled. Arms Exploding seems the type of band that would end their sets with blood on the floor and equipment broken.

There is some restraint leveled in “Of Luxury & Branding,” as a stripped-back groove section gives a momentary respite from chaos. The song also ends on a loop of a off-kilter piano line, which was an unexpected move from such a wild and frantic piece. But the majority of this track is old-school punk rock: abrasive, unusual, unexpected, and challenging to the status quo.

Both of these tracks were worth the vinyl. My personal aesthetic draws me to Caterpillar Tracks over Arms Exploding, but the quality of both tracks ensures that there kids out there saying the same thing about Arms Exploding. Whether you get the seven-inch or download it digitally (lame), you should invest some cash in this release. It’s not just two great songs; it’s show of solidarity with Phratry Records’ statement that red vinyl is worth it.

Sprockets create quality record for fans of the "in between"

January 6, 2010

Las Vegas based alternative pop/rock group Sprockets give their listener an intense, solid experience on their latest album, Medicated Empty.  I would say they fall into the category of “well-groomed Warped-Tour esq.” bands.  The 13-track album exudes creative writing and well-rounded musicianship.  While some may call them pop/rock, don’t be misled into thinking they are another lovestruck boy rock band.  Their sound is much darker, and the content is at times quite heavy.

The album starts out with title track, “Medicated Empty.”  Singer and lead guitarist Brodie Knight Vans says in a statement that the song was inspired after the “nowhere” feeling he experienced from medication after surgeries.  With lyrics like “Medicate your thoughts with substance that rots away the memory/Instead of pain I’d rather feel empty,” the song goes from mellow, gentle guitar to powerful alternative rock.  The pacing of the song reminds me of the old Brand New days.

Two of my least favorites are “Safety Nets and Fastened Windows” and “New Years Day.”  The only reasoning behind this is that the first has vocals that hint at the dirty rock sound of commercial rock bands like Hinder.  On the second, I just can’t get past the lyrics “f*cking in the parking lots/taking shots of everclear/celebrating the new year.”  This song just screams “young, male angst,” unlike much of the rest of the album, which has a broad and emotional appeal.  However, I am not discounting the catchy beat, which can surely rally a crowd at a show.

The album ends strongly with “Flood Lights” and “The Sound of Existence.”  Both songs exemplify the pop-punk genre perfectly, with the latter showing reminiscence to Rufio and much more pop-like than other songs on Medicated Empty.  Overall, fans of the “in-between genre” will enjoy this record.  By “in-between” I mean not quite hardcore and not quite pop-punk.

There is nothing particularly unique or unusual about the band’s overall sound, but credit should be given when credit is due: it’s solid.   There is definite influence from the band’s producer/engineer Mike Herrera.  Does his name sound familiar? Yep, he was also the founder and lead vocalist of MXPX.

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

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