Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Fun Police’s folk/funk/reggae/punk/sea shanty/bluegrass tunes are arresting

January 27, 2011

When “Gringo Meringue” is the first song on your album, and it’s literally a joking-yet-talented meringue played by a bunch of white dudes, you know you’re in for something a little bit south of normal. Most times the fun police are the guys stopping everyone from having fun; the band The Fun Police is here to stop people from having bad moods. You have to have fun, or you’re going to jail.

Okay, probably not, because they hate going to jail too. At least, that’s what “Rather Be Dead” espouses; yes, they’d rather the title than be in jail. With a reggae drum beat, a scuzzed-out bass line, a funky wah-wah guitar, a sea-shanty accordion and and a pirate fiddle filling out the tune, the tune screams rebellion from about every possible angle. They even claim to rob an old lady. I’m not kidding.

But of course, this isn’t your regular rebellion. Because even though they appropriate bits of almost everything except metal and industrial music, they combine them all together in unusual and hilarous ways. “Spanish Mullet” es canta en espanol (partially). It’s also a punked-out folk song with a reggae upbeat guitar strum. Again, I’m not kidding.

“We Don’t Want No More” is straight-up reggae, albeit with accordion and fiddle. “Night Beat” starts off with a flute solo and proceeds to mock the theme music from cop procedurals. “Wish I Was Rich” is a harbor town barroom sea shanty stomp tune. “eBay” is a folk-rock song, but it’s about … I don’t even really need to say it.

The only reason all these shenanigans are tolerable is that The Fun Police are ridiculously good at what they do. They are talented musicians, excellent songwriters (you’ll be singing these songs for a long time) and enthusiastic salesmen. I bet they absolutely destroy the place live, too. The music already sounds like a cross between The Felice Brother’s humorous take on folk, Flogging Molly’s sea shanty punk rock and a reggae traditionalist band; I can only imagine they would be a mix of all those things live.

You Better Run is easily the funniest album I’ve heard so far this year, and it’s one of the most entertaining as well. The members of The Fun Police have a firm grasp on their shtick, and they’re wringing every last drop out of it. Cheers to that. And I’m not kidding.

After the Fall's punk-rock is best-of-year, shiver-inducingly good

March 15, 2010

I still have a soft spot in my heart for well-done punk. Many people grow out of their punk phase, but I didn’t. Mine just morphed. I still mosh and skank and throw up my fist with the best of them; I’m just more selective with who I go all out for. Flogging Molly earned my passion, as noted in my Righs review a couple weeks ago. If I ever saw After the Fall live, they would earn my fervor as well.

There’s nothing complicated about After the Fall or their album Fort Orange. They play punk rock with a constant snare, more strumming than should be possible, and hollered vocals that waver between screaming and singing. This is my favorite vocal style, as it shows a singer who really wants to be singing, but occasionally becomes too passionate for notes and has to scream. It gives me shivers. And there aren’t that many bands (and even fewer punk bands) that can give me shivers the way that “1994” does.

They don’t usually stray toward the pop-punk end of things, choosing more often to err on the side of hardcore. But they rarely set up in chugga-chugga breakdown mode, preferring the spastic side of hardcore, as seen in the brutal, flailing attack of the minute-long “It’s Her Choice.” They also keep it short and tight; of the thirteen songs here, only three make it over 2:10. Most clock in around a minute and a half. This rapid-fire release of songs helps distinguish the songs. If they were any longer, the stuff might run together. Instead, it feels like After the Fall is dropping bombs, one after the other.

“Poor Excuse” showcases the chops of After the Fall, as there’s some impressive metal-esque guitar soloing. The strumming also shows up in some interesting patterns. The drummer keeps pounding that snare; the muscles in his right arm must be about twice as large as his left. “Routine” makes it clear how tight the band is, as there are timing breaks and tempo shifts that require a lot of band cohesiveness. This isn’t just a frantic, “play-as-fast-as-you-can-GO!” band. They know exactly what they’re doing; they decided to play punk because they wanted to play punk.

They show they aren’t a one-trick pony with the slowed-down melodic sections in “Decapitate,” the only song that breaks three minutes (and barely, at 3:10). It’s an impressive song, as they maintain their attitude even through the quieter sections. They keep it punk by (hilariously) having the drummer play as if it wasn’t a quiet section. What’s even crazier is that it becomes one of the most memorable moments on the album. Shows what I know, right?

After the Fall’s Fort Orange is the best punk release I’ve heard this year. I’m sad it came out last year, although I might still sneak it into my best-of list at the end of the year (I do what I want!!). If you like straight-up, snare-heavy, passionate, scream-it-loud-and-mosh-along punk rock, you need this record. Or, at the very least, a download of “1994.” It will give you shivers, it’s so good. That is, if you recognize shivers while you’re flailing in a pit.

The Righs' Irish punk stretches its wings lyrically and musically

March 11, 2010

Over the past few years, I’ve come to love Irish punk music. One of the most incredible concert experiences I’ve ever had was at Flogging Molly’s Austin City Limits ’09 set, when it rained and we danced anyway. There’s more to the tale (there always is!), but you’ll have to track me down in person to hear it. It’s too good to pass up telling live.

The Righs are an Irish punk band and (full disclosure) my friends, as lead singer/acoustic guitarist Nate Williams was a long-time writer for Independent Clauses.  Nate handed me this album and asked me what I thought. I told him pretty much what I’m writing now. But now you’re free to take all this with a grain of salt.

Back to the Righs’ Irish punk. The band is gleefully raw, having recorded these tunes on Roses purposefully without pristine sound quality. Having seen some of these songs performed live, it was a good move to go a little more raw on the recording; this album sounds a lot closer to what the Righs sound like live than their debut album The Rivers Run Deep does. The drums pound, the vocals run ragged, and the band seems to tilt a little bit toward losing control. It’s a wild and frantic sound most of the time, and it’s an energizing one.

I’m sure that the decision to let the sound be less-than-perfect will drive some away. But if that’s what sends them packing, they weren’t really listening to the songs anyway. This album is over an hour long, and the band uses almost every minute of it to say something. They charge through punk songs, drinking songs, anthems, folk tunes, sea shanties and more. The lyrics run the gamut too: from the call-to-arms of opener “Double Edged Sword” to the depressing storytelling of “Mother Knows Best” to the protest anthem “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” back to philosophical musings on closer “What Good is Death?”, The Righs devote time to tons of topics.

Because this album is long, varied musically, varied lyrically, and in a style that often gets pegged as a gimmick, it would be easy to think that this would get tiring. It doesn’t, because the album can be neatly broken into two parts: the ragged, wild beginning half, and the more subdued second half. There are still punk tunes in the back half, but “And So It Goes” is a much more orderly song than the “fire that’s on fire” urgency of early standout “The Man With Nickel Plating Makes All the Rules.” It doesn’t mean it’s less enjoyable; it means it’s different. And the Righs use that difference in songwriting and recording style to keep their long album interesting. There are some tunes that lag, but you can skip ’em. With so many songs to choose from here, missing one isn’t a huge loss (especially when the album is not composed with a particular theme, story, or central element).

The Righs’ Roses is an entertaining Irish punk album that draws in a variety of songwriting and lyrical influences from outside the Celtic tradition. While still retaining their core sound, the band pushes its boundaries outward, mostly resulting in success. The crazy, energetic, great songs are proof.

Happy First Day of ACL!

October 2, 2009

As a significant portion of the staff is at Austin City Limits, with the most of our other members pining to be there, a list is in order.

Bands Stephen Carradini is Most Excited to See at ACL

5. Daniel Johnston. I am not so much interested in his music as I am in actually witnessing him. Read my post here for more details. In fact, reading that essay again, I really recommend you do read it.

4. The Low Anthem. I really, really can’t wait to hear “Charlie Darwin” live. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful song. The fact that the Low Anthem will be the first band I see at ACL makes it all the more desirable.

3. K’Naan. I have never been to a rap show where I actually knew the material. This, paired with the fact that K’Naan seems effortlessly effervescent, should prove to make an out-of-this-world show.

2. Bon Iver. The only folk artist who has intrigued and excited me more in the past year is Joe Pug. And I listen to lots of folk. I hope there’s a full band, because “For Emma” without the trumpets would make me sad, and defeat some of the joy of that song. Maybe he can jack the brass section from Los Amigos Invisibles.?

1. The Avett Brothers. This is more of a pilgrimage than a dedication to their music. “Ballad of Love and Hate” and “Murder in the City” (neither of which will get played, I think) are two of my most favorite songs in the world, and because there’s a slim glimmer of a chance that one or both may be played, I’m hustling on over for the entirety of their set. Also, I hear they rip it up live, which will be fun.

Honorable Mentions: Flogging Molly, Andrew Bird, The Walkmen.

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

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