Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: The Future Elements / Monks of Mellonwah / Del Bel

June 24, 2012

The Future Elements is a group of writers and musicians from all over the world (but primarily India) who love “shoegaze, ambient, modern classical, drone and experimental music.” Those genres, along with post-rock, form the bulk of their 35-song (!) debut compilation album Elements 01. Since it’s almost three hours of music, it’s gonna take you a while to listen to, but it’s pretty worth it. If you sub out the Absent Hearts’ misplaced modern rock track, the quality of the compilation is quite high.

The majority of the compilation is of instrumentals, and its roughly organized around genre: the post-rock stuff with full-band set-ups is at the front, followed by more electronic takes on post-rock, which segues into modern classical, then ending in the full ambient section. The ambient section takes up most of the back half of the compilation. The least compelling work is the modern classical works, but that’s only because the rest of the ambient and post-rock stuff is just beautiful. Picking out individual tracks from the three-hour mass is a bit silly, so I’ll leave you to that yourself. This is a great, great release, and I look forward to what bands the label chooses for its releases. They’ve displayed a well-tuned ear so far.

If at some point you see me write on this blog, “I’m moving to Australia,” do not doubt the veracity of that statement. I am apparently enamored of every musical thing that comes out of the land down under. My latest Aussie crush is Monks of Mellonwah, who play high-drama rock, reminiscent of Muse without the keys. The band’s four-song EP Neurogenesis features a lot of soaring, spacy guitars, heavy drumming and melodic vocals. Highlight “Kyoto” adds a distorted bass into the mix, meshing with the furious drumming and soaring guitar work for a killer tune. The intro especially grabs attention. The rest of the album isn’t as frenetic as “Kyoto”: “Neverending Spirit” brings a neo-reggae vibe to the table in the guitars and vocals, while the title track keeps the chilled-out vibes going. “You Shine” is a ballad of sorts, but one with pounding drums. The EP is a nice introduction to the group, and “Kyoto” is a keeper.

The songs on Del Bel’s Oneiric are “gently rolling, evocative, moving indie rock held together by a cinematic strain running through the tunes.” It is not naturally the album I would expect to get the remix treatment, but a lot of things I don’t expect happen. The remix EP is worth your time for its incredible name and artwork alone: Kareemix Abdel Jabbel is about as puntastic as they come.

The remixes within largely replace the gentle evocative nature of the tunes with heavy beats and propulsive rhythms, which works excellently for the Gregory Pepper remix of the already-highly-rhythmic “Stirring Bones.” But the MadadaM remix of “Beltone” gives the tune a dubby vibe that just doesn’t sit right with me, given the sparse, tense original. The rest of the tunes fall somewhere between the two: The Adverteyes remix of “Slave to the Deep” plays up that tunes jagged separation for a jarring track, while Live Action Fezz and Skene turn in takes on “No Reservation” and “This Unknown” (respectively) that work well. If you’re into electronic music, this will be a fun listen.

Starlight Girls' indie-pop is deep or not, if you want it to be

January 6, 2012

I deeply enjoy Starlight Girlsself-titled EP, but I’ve thrown in the towel on three four different intros (and a conclusion!) because they all sucked. It’s been a long day that included a freelance writing assignment on boxing, which is not the easiest thing for me to write about. However, the day’s been made better by the Starlight Girls’ debut EP, which amalgamates tons of genres into surprisingly coherent and immediate indie-pop.

The five songs here are each enjoyable on the first listen, and that’s quite rare. This is a testament to the band’s tight chemistry and (I assume) strong work ethic, as they combine elements from all over the place to make their tunes work. The band is fond of whirring organs (a la the similarly monikered Starlight Mints), ’70s/’80s singer/songwriter moods (like Stevie Nicks, although it’s easier to say “sounds like Lissie and/or Tristen”), confident female vocals, bass-heavy arrangements that call up a bit of post-rock moodiness (The National, Del Bel), and surf-rock rhythms, among other things.

It’s fascinating that this grabbed me immediately, because I found that it’s a rather complicated amalgam once I sat down to write about it. While this deep analysis will make you feel good about liking the Starlight Girls’ seemingly simple tunes, you definitely don’t need it to enjoy the songs; just listen and you’ll like them. The EP is the definition of critical darling: it can be both a game of spot-the-influence or just enjoyable melodies and rhythms. That’s a tough balance to strike.

“Gossip” is the one with the feel-good surf-rock guitars and organ, while “Wallflower” is the one that could be an outtake of a Starlight Mints track, what with all the interlocking rhythms and melodies. “Wasteland” has a preternatural cool about it that comes from having a rhythm just faster than trip-hop. The chilled-out keys and vocals help the band toe the line between passion and stateliness that gives the tune and the whole album its desirable amount of tension.

Starlight Girls’ self-titled EP will appeal to lovers of classy, female-fronted indie bands that don’t sound like twee or Best Coast. I expect the band to make some waves in 2012.

Top Fifty Songs of the Year Mixtape

December 27, 2011

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.

1. “Nights Like This” – Icona Pop
2. “Bass, Not an 8-track” – Oh Look Out
3. “I Don’t Want to Go To Sleep Either” – FM Belfast
4. “Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?)” – Chad Valley
5. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” – Generationals
6. “Sticks & Stones” – Jonsi
7. “Norgaard” – The Vaccines
8. “Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card” – Banquets
9. “Axiomatic” – Bottle Up and Explode
10. “Yeah (Crass Version)” – LCD Soundsystem (Live at Madison Square Garden)
11. “Good in Green” – Saturday Sirens
12. “A Dream of Water” – Colin Stetson
13. “No Reservation” – Del Bel
14. “Box-Type Love” – Run Dan Run
15. “What Once Ran Wild” – Wild Domestic
16. “Movement” – Dam Mantle
17. “Saw You First” – Givers
18. “Glass Deers” – Braids
19. “Cassette 2012” – Delay Trees
20. “James Franco” – Hoodie Allen
21. “Black and White” – Generationals
22. “Kam” – Oh Look Out
23. “Prowl Great Cain” – The Mountain Goats
24. “Hobo Chili” – Attica! Attica!
25. “Montauk Monster” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
26. “Down to the River” – Cameron Blake
27. “We Will Never Have Tonight Again” – Sandra McCracken
28. “Turbulence” – Of God and Science
29. “Nothing But Love Can Stay” – Afterlife Parade
30. “Stones” – The Collection
31. “The Region of the Summer Stars” – Come On Pilgrim!
32. “Fever” – The Collection
33. “The Healthy One” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
34. “Some Boys” – Death Cab for Cutie
35. “Girls Girls Girls” – John Lepine
36. “At the Grindcore Show” – Common Grackle
37. “Simple Girl” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
38. “Dear Annabeth” – The Duke of Norfolk
39. “Kitchen Tile” – Typhoon
40. “Women in the Kitchen” – The Fox and the Bird
41. “Song for You” – Jenny and Tyler
42. “Find You” – Brianna Gaither
43. “Someone Like You” – Adele
44. “Through Your Eyes” – Jenny and Tyler
45. “No Silver” – Chris Bathgate
46. “Shoeboxes” – David Ramirez
47. “Unwed Fathers” – Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle
48. “I Wish You Didn’t Feel Like My Home” – Matt the Electrician
49. “In Parts” – Run Dan Run
50. “Putting the Dog to Sleep” – The Antlers

Del Bel's evocative, melodic indie-rock fills holes

November 15, 2011

Broken Social Scene is gone, which means that there’s a hole in the “absurdly large, Canadian indie-rock collaborative” part of the music universe. Thankfully, Del Bel is here to take up that space, both in size and sound.

And it’s quite a collective, encompassing at least ten people (according to the Facebook page). Some of them have been in Do Make Say Think, The Happiness Project, Ohbijou and (surprise, surprise) Broken Social Scene, among other bands listed. But all this pedigree wouldn’t matter if the songs sucked. Is Del Bel’s Oneiric worth the hype?

Very yes. The members of the band draw on their extensive indie rock histories to create a diverse album of gently rolling, evocative, moving indie rock held together by a cinematic strain running through the tunes. Opener “Dusk Light” is a slow-builder that falls between The National and Portishead, but with a lilting female vocalist. “Stirring Bones” falls next, and it falls on the New Pornographers side of things, even invoking She and Him a bit. But instead of being disparate, the two seem like logical extensions of each other, both held together by legato guitar lines living just beneath the surface of the tune. Even though the first uses the subterranean guitar to press the tempo and the latter uses it to rein in the shuffling groove, the sound locks in to the listener’s mind in the same way.

It’s not the only marker that transfers across these gentle, beautiful tunes. The forlorn mood that so invokes High Violet is on display in “Beltone” and “No Reservation,” although the latter jazzes it up a bit with woodwinds and rumbling toms. The Portishead comes out in the separated beats and immense space of “This Unknown” and “Slave to the Deep.” A dash of The Walkmen’s dramatism is applied throughout, although the band never appropriates the trademark Walkmen yowl. These songs are primarily gentle, not caterwauling.

The control that Del Bel Oneiric asserts over its sound is incredibly impressive. By restraining any impulse to get frenzied, they have created a well-tuned set of songs that translate into a well-coordinated album. It’s rare that I hear an album that works on an individual song (local) level and a whole-album (global) level, but Oneiric does. Highly recommended for fans of melodic, artistic, evocative music.

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

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