Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-November Rock Jams

November 19, 2015

1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?

2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.

3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.

4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?

5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.

6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.

7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.

8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.

9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).

10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale.  Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.

11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.

12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.

13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.

14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.

Jenny & Tyler set their stamp on 7 tunes for charity

November 14, 2013

Jenny-Tyler-For-Freedom-Cover-Art

When I was in an art-rock band in high school, we managed to agree on only three cover songs in our four-year history: Coldplay’s “Parachutes,” Fall Out Boy’s “Dance Dance,” and “Hotel California.” (If you can figure out what those have in common, let me know.) My latest endeavor with the cover song was much more coherent, as I got 22 bands to contribute to a Postal Service covers album. I’m still incredibly thrilled with the final product, although I certainly do not want to run a similar project any time soon.

Folk-pop duo Jenny & Tyler, who were featured on Never Give Up, have put together their own covers album in For Freedom. As the title would suggest, the 7-song album is a project that benefits International Justice Mission‘s work to end slavery. Not only do you get their excellent arrangement skills, songs you love, and guest musicians (Sara Groves! JJ Heller! A virtual choir of hundreds of J&T fans!), you get to support justice in the world. What are you waiting for?

“We Will Become Silhouettes” is included here in remastered form, sounding even more gorgeous than before. It would easily be my favorite (and not just for sentimental value; the crescendo from beginning to end is heart-pounding) except for the absolutely stunning “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Jenny & Tyler temper Bono’s original desperation with their warm, gentle arrangement skills, using oboe, clarinet, and cello to create an alternate vision of what that place we’re all looking for sounds like. If that wasn’t enough, they enlist the excellent Sara Groves and a choir of fans to guest vocal, creating a simply masterful take on the song. I could listen to this one all day.

They turn Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from an angsty rager into a twee-pop tune, complete with glockenspiel. “The Sound of Silence” is suitably haunting, with their voices and clarinet (aside: I just love that they give the clarinet good press) giving a new tension to Simon & Garfunkel’s original. “The Scientist” includes a harpsichord/autoharp sound, but no piano; it’s an ambitious move that pays off.

Overall, Jenny & Tyler have set their unique and particular vision on these tracks, and that’s all that I ask from covers. The fact that the tunes are alternately heartbreaking and heart-pounding is a testament to the skill with which they can realize that vision. Highly recommended.

The Shoreline produces a stellar pop-punk cover … and some other songs

July 23, 2010

I used to hate covers, because I thought they showed a lack of originality on the part of a band. Now I see that in addition to paying homage to a respected band, a good cover can be just as creative (and just as satisfying, if not more so) than a good original.

That’s why The Shoreline‘s cover of “I Gotta Feelin'” is my favorite track on their EP Fake It Till You Make It. Their cover re-envisions the party anthem as a pop-rock anthem. They remain faithful to the lyrics, mood and song structure; they just infuse the tune with a lot of guitar strumming and a pop-punk high-pitched voice. And while some covers become cloying in their pandering (someone played me a copy of a “Tik Tok” pop-punk cover that I could barely make it through), The Shoreline’s version of the Black Eyed Peas tune doesn’t get repetitive, annoying or gratuitous. It makes the point, slams it home and gets on to the next thing. It’s great. I like this song just as much as I like the original version, for completely different reasons. That’s the mark of a great cover.

The rest of the EP doesn’t have anything that possesses that sort of clarity and focus. As a result, the tunes are difficult to remember and just don’t make a big impact. If you like current pop-punk (e.g. Boys Like Girls, Angels and Airwaves, We the Kings, Fall Out Boy – especially in “Let’s Make a Mess”), you’ll like The Shoreline. But they won’t be your favorite band off the strength of this EP. Perhaps they have more in the tank, and they’re just getting started from here.

For now, I highly recommend “I Gotta Feelin'” to anyone and Fake It ‘Til You Make It to fans of the genre.

I Can Hear Myself Levitate delivers a memorable, creative, genre-mashing EP

May 25, 2010

There are residual benefits to not listening to the radio. I don’t get overexposed to songs, so I never tire of good tunes (I still love “I’m Yours” by Jazon Mraz months after people can’t take it anymore; ditto for “Hey Soul Sister” and “Beautiful” by Akon). I also never get burned out on genres. If you’re making good pop-punk, I’m still able to rock out to it; I haven’t been burned out by its overexposure on radio.

Which is probably why I’m so enamored with I Can Hear Myself Levitate’s EP What is Left. ICHML has a sound that incorporates AFI’s darkly theatrical musical bent, Coheed and Cambria’s prog leanings, the high-pitched vocal preenings of Fall Out Boy and a low-slung form of guitar-centric rock’n’roll. They even dabble in some post-hardcore at points during the album. If heard with an uninterested ear, it wouldn’t sound much different than anything else on radio. The ear would hear the chunky guitars in the choruses and dismiss everything else that’s happening. And that’s sad, because ICHML have a lot more to offer than simple Boys Like Girls/Angels and Airwaves songs.

Take “Body Heat,” for example. The song sets up a distinct mood from the get-go, setting up the fast-paced drums against a moody, wiry guitar line. They pump it up for the chorus, but they never let the mood of the song change from an insistent, dark, patient piece. Mega props to the guitarist for not letting the song change mood. Its unique feel even amongst the tunes here gives it “standout track” moniker. “The Artifacts” plays with similar moods, but it doesn’t do it as effectively, as the song relies on the vocals instead of the guitars to create the mood. The vocals are great, but the evocative and pensive type of vocalist is not the type of vocalist they possess. Thankfully, they catch this by the end of the song and feature some tight guitar work in the back half of the tune.

“Eskimo Kiss” features jagged, intricate, organized rhythms against a smooth vocal line; the juxtaposition is immediately memorable. The vocal antics are especially memorable here as well; you can almost see the vocalist leaning out into the crowd and gesturing wildly. It’s another excellent song.

What is Left is a great EP. I Can Hear Myself Levitate presents a good snapshot of who they are and what they can do. The only thing I can particularly complain about is that the vocal style is very much a love it or hate it proposition. From beginning to end, they show instrumental chops, songwriting skill, creative energy and passion. What else could you want out of a rock band? Not much. If I Can Hear Myself Levitate gets to the right ears, we could have a serious contender on our hands. Watch for them.

Play the Angel plays perfect radio rock

February 14, 2010

Ever since Nirvana became the world’s most prestigious rock band by playing distorted pop songs, the line between pop and rock has been blurred. To me, it’s pretty much an attitude at this point. Modest Mouse is a rock band, mostly because they sneer at anything and everyone who doesn’t fit into their ideas of the way things should be. Even though Three Days Grace, Hinder, and even Nickelback play “rock’n’roll” by modern standards, they are pop bands. They are pop bands because they act like preening pop stars and not like rock stars (i.e. hedonistic excess does not a rock band make).

Play the Angel is one of the best pop bands I’ve heard in years. They play “rock” by the radio’s standards, but they don’t have any of the attitude of a rock band. And that’s a good thing, because they embrace their pop star aesthetics and give the people what they want. There are five songs on this EP: straightforward rock’n’roller, major-key powerballad, dance-rock tune, whoa-oh pop-punk tune, and Gavin DeGraw-style emotive piano ballad. They have real names, of course, but they each fit excellently into their own radio niche. “So what?” you say. “Bands do that crap all the time.”

Yeah, they do, but they do one of the genres better than the other. Play the Angel does all five right. They could release every song off this EP as a radio single and, with proper label backing, they would have five number one hits. Their songwriting is just that good. Their vocalist has an incredibly appealing voice that’s a tad lower than Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects but just as emotive. Their production values are pitch-perfect. The band knows when to get out of the way of the vocals and when to crash in for the emotional payoff. Play the Angel does everything right.

If you like anything on rock radio right now, from Fall Out Boy to Hinder to Panic! at the Disco to Paramore to All-American Rejects and anything in between, you’re going to absolutely fall in love with Play the Angel. I don’t have a clue why this band hasn’t shot to the top of the charts yet. They’ve got every piece of the puzzle in line. They just need to see the right guy at the right gig who turns them into mega-stars. Cause, geez, they’re infinitely better than Nickelback. And that crap still sells millions. Again, if you turn on the radio and like anything you hear, Play the Angel is there for you. It’s that good.

There's Folk and Punk in Clock Hands' Stranglehold

October 29, 2009

Clock Hands Strangle suffered from a peculiar syndrome when I was reviewing this album. I enjoyed this album so much that I put it in my car and started listening to it like I would if it were an album that I purchased from a record store. But when I do that, I don’t think about things like “when I need to have it reviewed by” and things of that nature. Hey, we’re definitely not pros here at IC. Only here will producing a fantastic album actually delay your review. Sorry.

But Disticatti is an incredible album that deserves the words I’m about to lavish on it. It’s a folk/punk album, and the punctuation is chosen particularly. It’s not folk-punk, where the folk has a whole lot of punk strumming and attitude (O Death comes to mind) or folk punk, which is a punk band playing folk instruments (The Violent Femmes, for example). This is a band that plays folk and punk in equal measure. Continue readingThere's Folk and Punk in Clock Hands' Stranglehold…

Hopes and Dreams dashed on the rocks

April 14, 2009

In a world full of Fall Out Boys, emo bands and imitators, the first several measures of Faster Faster’s Hopes and Dreams show that this band has done next to nothing to change that world.

Faster Faster brings nothing new or interesting to the table of bubble gum pop rock. This is everything you would expect – high-toned vocals that try to sound happy when the lyrics are about immature teenage love with song titles that try too hard to be clever. If you’ve ever listened to Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Armor For Sleep or any of the other number of bands with similar sounds, you know what to expect.

The musicianship at work is good. The group is obviously more than capable of playing their instruments well. Randall Dowling and Christian Mosely are both obviously adept guitarists, able to fill the gaps between vocals with compelling hooks. The bass and drums tend to take a backseat, the bass more so than the drums. Vocalist Kyle Davis is a mixed bag. He obviously has a strong set of pipes, but his style ends up sounding like an odd fusion of Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly and it doesn’t come off well. It just sounds derivative.

The main problem with Hopes and Dreams is that it just doesn’t seem to show any originality. It’s not that these guys are necessarily a bad group of musicians, it’s just that they’re sticking too much to their influences. Faster Faster simply comes off sounding like a good cover band than a band in its own right, which is simply unfortunate.

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

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