Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Posting our quarterly earnings

April 3, 2010

So, I took a week off from Independent Clauses. I was having a monster of a week, so I just mailed it in for a couple days. Compared to the eight-month hiatus that one time, this was nothin’.

But, it nicely coincided with the end of the quarter, so I thought I’d put a little list up of my top releases from the first three months (since I listened to more music in this quarter than I think I have at any other time in Independent Clauses’ existence). It’s been an awesome year for music so far, and I’m stoked that there are three more quarters yet.

1. Sever Your Roots – The Felix Culpa. This post-hardcore masterpiece has not yet ceased to amaze me. Every song reveals new gems with each listen, whether it be a buried guitar line, a line of lyrics I hadn’t yet caught, or something else. “Escape to the Mountain” is one of my favorite tracks of the year.

2. Hours From It – Holy Fiction. Jumped up my list in the last week or so, as “More than Ever,” “Song 10” and “Two Small Bodies” inserted themselves in my life and would not let go. Passionate, melodic, lush indie-rock that doesn’t brook any cliches, resulting in occasionally challenging listening. But it’s worth it to hear the vocalist holler out “I neeeeeed you moooore than everrrr…”

3. Mt. Chimaera – Brasstronaut. Any band that’s got the guts to eschew choruses for an entire album, send down trumpet solos like it’s nobody’s business, and write the equivalent of an indie-rock symphony deserves all the props they can get. The fact that clarinet-led klezmer also happens in there makes it jump my list.

4. Of the Blue Color of the Sky – OK GO. I heard that their new video has several million hits and their album has sold just over 25,000 copies. This is a freakin’ shame. It’s their best work yet, mature in ways that “Here it Goes Again”-era OK GO can’t understand, much less imitate. If you pardon the horrible autotune experiment, the whole thing is solid, with “Needing/Getting” being the fist-pumping, shout-it-out anthem.

5. We’ve Built Up to NOTHING – 500 Miles to Memphis. This is country-punk at its finest, displaying both its country and punk roots, while extending out into places I’d never thought they’d go (full orchestras? really?). Standout track “Everybody Needs an Enemy” is outlandishly good in its nearly-ten-minutes-long-ness.

Honorable mention: They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them – Post Harbor. Fell off a bit on me, as the staying power isn’t as strong as I expected it would be. But it’s still an incredible post-rock album.

So, here’s to the second quarter! More music! More!

Brasstronaut's lush piano and brass instruments create magic

February 12, 2010

I’m not very rock’n’roll any more. In fact, I wonder if I ever was at all. I grew up on pop-punk, but only because it was hyperactive. The rebellion was packaged with it, but to me it was the free toy in the cereal box that you looked at a couple times and then threw away. I have lived a pretty rebellion-free life, other than low-grade cultural rebellions like not watching TV, biking places instead of driving, and wearing Vans without being a skateboarder.

Thus, it make sense that I have turned my focus away from the raging paeans to youth and fixed it squarely on less rambunctious music. Other than absolutely incredible rock albums (like The Felix Culpa’s Sever Your Roots, which I covered extensively yesterday), I prefer mellow, melodic, instrument-heavy music. At this rate, I will someday like classical music. May it never be.

I came to realize this truth about myself during Brasstronaut’s “Hand Behind.” The second track off their album Mt. Chimaera, it features an absolutely gorgeous horn line that is expertly played. The trumpeter knows what he’s doing, and it’s the icing on Brasstronaut’s expertly-crafted indie rock. Brasstronaut dominates their sound with lush piano, low bass lines, lots of brass and wind instruments and tight but spare drumming. The guitar mostly swoops around for atmosphere, and kudos to him for not getting in the way of the sound. If the guitarist contributed any more to the sound, the elegant, stately flow would have been significantly diminished.

And that elegant, stately flow continues through the entire album. From beginning to end, Brasstronaut plays with a confidence and passion that makes even fast, choppy songs like “Lo Hi Hopes” feel much more important and lofty than other bands’ work. It helps that this album is immaculately recorded; listened to on good speakers, it feels like Brasstronaut is in the room with you.

The only detriments to this album come in songwriting choices. “Ravan” and “Same Same,” which are two of the most engaging tunes on the album, cover the otherwise excellent vocals in a totally unnecessary cloak of reverb, plucking the songs out of the flow of the album somewhat. Also, Brasstronaut often seems more like a chamber orchestra than a rock band in the amount of times they play riffs. They are content to only play riffs one or two times, leaving listeners longing for more. It is somewhat frustrating, especially considering how infectious the trumpet riff on “Same Same” is.

But there is a significant amount of pop influence as well; “Hearts Trompet” has a bouncy feel and a singable hook, as well as an epic buildup section that repeats a satisfying number of times. “Slow Knots” is a sinister break-up song that would fit perfectly on an indie movie. “Six Toes” is a joyful klezmer tune, complete with clarinet and quick piano keying. It’s one of the best tracks here, as the band gels perfectly and cranks out a tune that no one else could even imagine, much less pull off.

Brasstronaut’s Mt. Chimaera is an astoundingly mature release. The musicians are incredibly talented, the songwriting is polished, and their lush aesthetic is incredibly well-developed for a sophomore release and debut album. Brasstronaut knows what they want to sound like, and they actually sound like it. Mt. Chimaera is an absolute gem to listen to, and easily the most beautiful album I’ve heard so far this year. Brasstronaut’s clever, tight, melodic sound is absolutely fantastic, and I will be listening to this release long after I’m done reviewing it.

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.

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