Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ICYMI: The Sound of Rescue | Beach Moon / Peach Moon | Living Decent | The Black Watch

December 4, 2015

aperture

The Sound of Rescue‘s Aperture is a smart fusion of post-rock and drone that strips some of the traditional slow-fast, quiet-loud post-rock tropes and instead substitutes long, thick synths to create their own songwriting logic. It takes 1 minute and 33 seconds before a recognizable guitar comes in on opening cut “Slowly, Then All At Once,” relying on synths and loping yet insistent bass to push the album into existence. The instrumental outfit does retain the song length that many outfits are enamored with; no song runs shorter than 5:41, all but two top 7 minutes, and the closer is 11 and a half.

Yet the album never drags–it’s a testament to their refined palette (this is their sixth major outing in five years) and their clear focus. There is still variation: “Footfalls Echo” almost gets up to post-metal range, as does “Falls the Shadow” before it turns out a nearly-4-minute drone coda. The title track echoes Sigur Ros’ grainy Super 8/ethereal vibe, but never dismisses it in the 6:43 of the tune. It’s a rare band that can get the hammering “Footfalls Echo” and the light-washed “Aperture” next to each other, but The Sound of Rescue is that group. Post-rock fans, pay attention.

 

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Beach Moon / Peach Moon‘s Kite Without a String is dreamy early ’00s emo that could have been on Deep Elm or Vagrant records, paired with an artsy sensibility that wants to tug some post-rock, atypical structure sensibility into it (“Firefly Stars”). My first thought was the work of another band with an unruly name (Empire! Empire! I Was A Lonely Estate), but instead of making me want to go listen to that, BM/PM kept me fully engaged in their tunes. The vocals are wide-eyed and child-like, pointing toward the sort of intimate/widescreen tension that is going on in these tunes. Opener “Philosophy at 23/at 24” plays with this particularly well, opening with spacious reverb and an intriguing drumbeat before stripping the tune down to its bare essentials for the coda. Elsewhere the drums play a significant role in directing the sound: the meticulous rhythm that opens the “The Fog” keeps it from being a Lullatone atmosphere piece, while follow-on “Firefly Stars” balances out the low-slung guitars with perky rim-clicks. It’s unusual for the percussion to be such a big part of the sound in a dreamy work, but the pieces all work together here beautifully to keep the tunes from floating off into the ether. Instead, it’s a well-rounded, beautiful release that sticks with me.

livingdecent

Living Decent‘s self-titled EP also could have been on Vagrant Records in the early ’00s, but from the more punk rock side. Vic Alvarez’s latest punk rock outfit offers a contemplative (but not navel-gazing) gaze in their tunes, drawing on some shoegaze/”wall of sound” vibes (“Close Enough to Keep You Close”), pop-punk energy (“Bad Collections,” “Borrowed Bike”), and acoustic-pop sweetness (“Antique Store”) to fill in. The results are songs that feel accomplished–Alvarez has a long history of songwriting, and it feels like all those songs and all those bands have resulted in a “know thyself” sort of maturity evident here. Jimmy Eat World’s stable-yet-productive run in the mid-’00s with Futures and Chase This Light is the best analogue I can think of: both band’s songs are well-crafted, memorable, not ostentatious, and thoroughly focusing on the best characteristics of the band. In Living Decent’s case, that’s Vic Alvarez’s voice, the specific moods the trio pulls out of guitar tone and drum style, and the lyrics. The spartan yet evocative words point toward a concern with “listening,” as three of the five songs mention it–the older we get, the more important it seems to become to just listen and appreciate. If you’re interested in thoughtful punk rock with a lot of maturity in it, please go listen to Living Decent. 

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The Black Watch has released somewhere between 13-17 albums and somehow hadn’t come to my attention until the last couple of years. Highs and Lows is a rock’n’roll album the impressive likes of which they hardly make anymore, combining big guitars with psychedelic touches, baritone vocals that don’t veer into monotone post-punk territory (thank you, thank you, thank you), melodies that fit with the rock attack, and a backing band that just nails it. Extra bonus: the band has the ability to peel it all back for an acoustic ballad that doesn’t get maudlin (“Eleanor’s Not Hiding”). Tunes like “Pershing/Harvard Square,” “Love’s Fever Dreams” and “There’s No Fucking Way” get stuck in my head, with “Love’s Fever Dreams” in particular standing out for high praise. I could break down the tunes for you, but in an album like this that’s totally not the point. If you’re into rock’n’roll, you’ve probably already heard of The Black Watch and you’re wondering why I’m late to the show. If on the off chance you’re new here like me, you should jump on this one for real.

Oh Three, Experimentalists

December 13, 2012

Avant-garde music generally doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t cover it much on IC. But there are exceptions, such as Kai Straw‘s To Pearl Whitney, From Howland Grouse In Loathing. The album was pitched to me as “experimental poetry”; that might make you think of rap, but lead track “sexlovesoul” is an intense a capella piece that blurs the lines between rap and spoken word. The story it tells is one of a relationship found and lost and found, spread over an entire life. It was deeply moving, inspiring me to check out the rest of the 21-song album. What proceeds is a highly idiosyncratic mix of poetry, rapping, electronica, jazz and even some acoustic guitar. The lead is always Straw’s voice, which he has fine-tuned to be precise and highly tonal (even when speaking). The lyrics he sings and speaks are varied, from songs of death and destruction (“The Champion,” “2,000”) to elaborate daydreams (the near-parody “Vanity Fair,” “Boogie Nights”) to relationship troubles (“Drunk,” “sexlovesoul”).

The best tunes are the ones that don’t invest the most in the arrangement; while tunes like “Yakuza 21” and “Dionysius” have well-developed backing beats (squelching electronica and traditional R&B, respectively), taking the focus off the vocals is not the best move for Straw. That’s not because the beats aren’t strong; it’s that his voice is so engaging and intriguing that I want to hear it unfiltered. If you’re into hip-hop for the lyrical prowess, you should check out Kai Straw’s work. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Me and My Ribcage by The Widest Smiling Faces doesn’t sound that experimental on first blush. The wistful title track opens the album and introduces the listener to a sound somewhere between the moving soundscapes of The Album Leaf and the minimalist slowcore of Jason Molina and Red House Painters. The high, tentative, child-like vocals tip this off as slightly out of the ordinary, however. The album unfolds as a collection of beautiful, relaxing tunes, not so far off from bands like Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) or Pedro the Lion at its quietest. None of the elements in the album are particularly virtuosic in their performance, but the arrangements of piano, guitar and voice are arresting. If you’re looking for a quiet, melodic, gorgeous album, you should look the way of The Widest Smiling Faces.

I was aware that The Miami had some experimental in them when I reviewed their album “I’ll Be Who You Want Me to Be”, but they ratchet that mode up in their exciting EP “Ring Shouts”. The Miami is a duo that recreates old spirituals, hymns and folk tunes in often-mournful style, stretching the source material in unusual and unexpected ways. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” has a grating noise butting up against the plain, acoustic accompaniment; this juxtaposition seems to inspire fear in the vocalist/narrator and uneasiness in this listener. The 78 seconds of “Barbed Wire” are an a capella tune with only one person clapping and stomping to back it up, while the swirling, mysterious synths of “Motherless Child” combine with the acoustic guitar and vocals for a heartwrenchingly sad piece.

Then, they throw all that sad stuff overboard and close out the EP with “Kneebone,” a call-and-response tune that is easily the catchiest and happiest tune they’ve ever put out. It’s still got a long introduction that abruptly quits before the vocals come in and a drowsy coda to connect it with the rest of the tunes, but it’s a fun song to hear and to sing along with. Because even the most experimental of us enjoy a good singalong every now and then.

Band with crazy name releases 7 inch vinyl

September 21, 2009

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)” has got to be one of the all-time strangest band names I have ever encountered. First of all, it’s seven words long. Seven. Secondly, not only does it incorporate punctuation, the name includes different kinds – both exclamation points and parenthesis. It makes me wonder what their fans call them. Maybe just “Empire! Empire!”? (But then do you have to say it with a raised voice?) Or what about “E.E.I.W.A.L.E.”? Continue readingBand with crazy name releases 7 inch vinyl…

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

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