Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

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.”

Theanti/Lamps-Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP

September 1, 2007

theanti-album-artBand: Theanti/Lamps

Album: Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP

Best Element: Cohesive mood.

Genre: Post-hardcore/rock/improve

Website: http://www.indermamusic.com/theantipage.html http://www.indermamusic.com/lamps.html

Label: Inderma Music

Having already reviewed half of the Theanti/Lamps split CD Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot, I went in knowing partly what to expect. I was looking forward to some crunchy, gritty post-hardcore rock with a penchant for artsiness, interspersed with whatever Lamps contributed.

In the press kit, I found that Lamps and Theanti are the same people – Theanti is the traditional band, and Lamps is the improv side. The importance of that knowledge was lost on me until I started listening to the album.

Theanti’s songs are thick, rhythmically complex and well-designed. Lamps’ are the natural counter to that aesthetic – the songs are built on a single melodic theme and usually rhythmically simple. Yet there is an overarching mood to the entire album due to the fact that the same two people composed it. This makes it a very complete listen – the cramped, gritty mood is cohesive, but the songwriting is varied and unpredictable. With everything from charging rockers to rickety acoustic numbers, this split has it all.

Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot is not a very comforting listen, as the players love their distortion and like dissonance, but it’s a very good listen that I would easily recommend to anyone interested in louder music. I enjoyed Theanti and Lamps better together than separately: if I had heard Lamps by itself I would have crowed for more complexity, and Lamps plus Theanti is even better than Theanti by itself.

– Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

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

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