Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

TiLT 360 does aggressive modern rock right

January 17, 2010

I hate Nickelback. But I don’t hate them because of their music. They have every right to be watered-down grunge or roughed-up pop (whichever you prefer). It’s that they legitimately think they are hardcore. It’s obvious to anyone who’s actually heard a rock band that Nickelback is not hardcore, but Nickelback takes themselves as seriously as Live, and they aren’t writing songs anywhere near as good as “Lightning Crashes” to back it up. The depressing thing is that millions of people buy it (literally and metaphorically). They, obviously, have never heard a real rock band, and especially not TiLT 360 or their album Day 11.

Annoying capitalization aside, TiLT 360 is everything that is good and right about modern rock. I’ve been reviewing a lot of modern rock recently (I swear I’m not going to the dark side), but this needs to be the last one so that I can go out on a high note. TiLT 360 plays heavy, dark rock and roll with great melodies, interesting rhythms, and varied vocals. There’s screaming, singing and growling on this album, and each is done with taste and talent. The guitars play in skull-crushing mode just as often as they do in a more pop-oriented mellow style (usually in verses). The drummer knows how to thrash without going overboard. Even the bassist contributes, intertwining his bass lines with the guitarwork in the quiet sections. It’ll never be confused for a Bush album (the band lets its metal roots shine through), but I would say it’s worthy to be considered in the same category as Chevelle and RED inĀ  “good modern rock and roll.”

Highlights include the bass-heavy riff-metal of “Point Blank,” the thoroughly aggressive “It Grows,” and the moody tension of standout track “Last String.” The only real lowlight is a poor vocal performance on the title track and opener “Day 11.” If that’s dropped out of the mix, this ten-song album is a pretty stout modern rock offering. If you’re a fan of radio-style modern rock but want something a little heavier to go with it, you should definitely check out Day 11 by TiLT 360.

When Summers Gone rocks out naturally and comfortably

January 5, 2010

There is nothing wrong with the genre of modern rock. When done correctly, it can be just as powerful as your best indie-rock songs or indie-pop tunes. It’s just that there aren’t very many bands like Chevelle, Bush, Glori-H and (okay, I’m prepared to take some flack for this) Linkin Park. There are, however, plenty of sucky bands like Three Days Grace, Nickelback, Staind, Puddle of Mudd, and the like. It’s a true statement that modern rock has a disproportionately amount of sucky artists in its ranks. I don’t know why this is, exactly. But just because there are lots of sucky ones doesn’t stop me from being able to laud a good one when it appears.

And When Summers Gone is a good modern rock band, despite the horribly punctuated name (I have to stop myself from putting a [sic] after every use). Their debut album December features catchy riffs, a solid rhythm section, intense vocals that fit well without sounding forced (mostly), and a general mood that makes it feel real and honest instead of overproduced and bloated.

“Ocean Boulevard” is the standout here, with a charging guitar line accented by syncopated drumming and snarling yet melodic vocals. Every part meshes together, and the song feels like a whole. It doesn’t feel forced or contrived, but like the natural outflow of the band. In the same way that Anathallo sits down and indie-pop glory comes out, When Summers Gone sits down and modern rock comes out. It’s almost definitely not that simple, but the finished product makes it feel that way. And that’s good news for the listener (which is good news for the band).

“Embers” is another hard-charging tune that only misses being the highlight by having a slightly out-of-control vocal line throughout. If the vocals weren’t so passionate as to miss bits here and there (this is, after all, an indie release), the song would easily top “Ocean Boulevard,” as the start/stop, loud/quiet songwriting is the tightest on the album. The band plays with emotions effectively on “Embers,” and that’s a good sign.

If When Summers Gone can hang together and make some more songs, I see good things for them. Their songs are tight and their sound is cohesive. They can write and make it feel natural, which makes me want to listen to their music over others in the genre who just feel contrived as a marketing ploy. They do have issues with vocals in places, but that’s stuff they can smooth out. December is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Bush, Chevelle, or modern rock in general.

Dumpster Diving with A Billion Ernies

July 16, 2009

Dumpster Generation by A Billion Ernies is a hard-hitting album that rarely lets up from start to finish. If you’re not familiar with the band, their sound is a mix of ska and hard rock. Think Emery or Chevelle meets Streetlight Manifesto. It’s standard rock instrumentation, plus trumpet, trombone, and a vocalist prone to bouts of screaming. A Billion Ernies maintain a relatively raw sound – not quite garage rock, but not all that far from it, either.

The album opens with “Two Kings” and “Used Up.” They’re actually a little softer than other songs on the album, with more of an emphasis on the ska influence. “Two Kings” is a little heavy on the bass, and almost anthemic at points, then transitions into a much harder rock tonality about 2:00 in. “Used Up” has a little more of the same, with powerful vocals and backup vocal hits. There’s a driving, upbeat tempo, with periodic screaming and brass (trumpet and trombone, if you’re curious; typical ska instrumentation, though I definitely hear saxophone as well, which is a little less common).

Also good are “The Existentialist’s Apprentice” and “Idea12,” which display a broader range and more versatility than other songs on the album. “The Existentialist’s Apprentice” starts off with a cool guitar lick and drums; it’s less metal or hard rock and more light ska. That’s all relative, of course – everything on the album is harder than most ska groups, like Streetlight Manifesto or Suburban Legends. “Idea12” has a cool beginning with some Latin influence. Lyrics start with, “Another day / another dollar / another eight hours of feeling used/ This is not where I’m supposed to be” and add great tone. This is one of the better examples of their sound, with broad style and energy that varies from a quiet opening to a loud, bombastic chorus, with great use of all of their instrumentation. At around 2:00, it breaks down into hard rock that’s strangely reminiscent of early Blindside (certainly not a bad thing to remind me of).

Unfortunately, A Billion Ernies sometimes goes a bit far into the hard rock territory, losing the ska edge that makes their sound unique. Songs like “Point-Click” default to generic hard rock and screamo, which I found a little disappointing. It feels more like rock that just happens to have a few brass musicians hanging around. The album also drooped a little at the end, with songs like “Athiest” and “Addict” failing to impress me. It is worth noting that it ends on a positive note; “Thanks” is an acoustic piece, borderline singer-songwriter business. It’s got a very raw, back-room unpolished feel to it, with strong lyrics that proclaim, “Count your blessings / You’re still alive, who knows / Your mother could have killed you / Before you arrived / What a world.” I found it an interesting and welcome way to end the album.

Dumpster Generation is a solid release, though not everyone will find it appealing – hard ska-rock is definitely a niche genre. I found much of it to be enjoyable, but a wider range and more exploration of alternative sounds would have been welcome. Too often a song would devolve into mindless screaming. I’m all for hard stuff, but without reason it becomes a little self-indulgent.

I realize this is all a little muddled. Frankly, that’s because I’ve got mixed feelings. Consider this a “yes, but…” recommendation. It’s a good album, but I would like to see more variation and innovation from A Billion Ernies in the future.

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

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