Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: More Than Skies / Nonagon / The Woodrow Wilsons

May 7, 2012

I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I posted. Crazy times. Here’s a bunch of quick hits to clear my slate and get back to lengthy reviews I am such a fan of writing.

The fractured melodies and herky-jerky energy of Good News-era Modest Mouse meet the moody ponderousness of Tom Waits’ work in More Than SkiesI Am Only Above The Ground. The lyrics are far more positive than either party is accustomed to writing, making the album a unique experience of positive-to-wistful lyrics led by a raspy singer and backed by an enthusiastic band that often breaks out into group vocals. Instrumental chops abound (“Introduction,” “The One Who Wanders Is Not Lost”) and the melodies shine (“Life Declines at Twenty-five,” the title track), but it’s the exuberant “We’re Getting Older” that will stick in your mind and heart. Highly recommended for fans of a full-bodied folk sound that’s still raw and real.

Nonagon‘s People Live Everywhere EP offers up technical post-hardcore that’s big on dissonant melodies, tempo changes, odd time signatures, and shouted vocals. The unusual juxtaposition of guitar lines in opener “Vikings” should tip you off that this is loud music to appreciate with your brain as much as your body. You can definitely mosh to it (the dissonant “Fresnel Lens,” the manic “The Swifts”), but it’s the atypical rhythms and melodic ideas in “Fadeout” and the aforementioned “Vikings” that get me. Nonagon’s working at a high level here.

The Woodrow WilsonsDevil Jonah focuses more on mood and arrangement than hummable melodies, making their acoustic amalgam much less of a traditional “folk” album and more of a chamber-pop album. “I Love the Atlantic” is a beautiful tune that experiments with tempo and arrangement for effect, while “Anthropomorphics” is a jubilant tune with a horn chorale in it. Songs like “The Ocean is Rising to Meet You” and “Heat” play with the conventions of songwriting to great effect. Male and female vocals lead the band in turns, only lending more variety to the album. The highlight is the tense, emotive “The Size of My Fist,” which calls up what Andrew Bird might sound like if he had an interest in conveying emotions. On the whole, fans of The Decemberists and old-school Sufjan Stevens will find much to love in The Woodrow Wilsons.

Ringer T's alt-country grows up and gets even more enjoyable

July 1, 2011

Ryan Hendrix of Colourmusic made a good point to me during an interview with his band earlier this year for Oklahoma Gazette.

“I think it’s important for bands to be older,” Hendrix said. “They have more to say, and what they have to say isn’t related to being mad at parents.”

I hadn’t thought much about age/maturity as a factor in making great music, but since then it’s been on my radar. I’ve seen Paul Simon in an entirely different light; I’ve noticed castoff lines in Good News For People Who Love Bad News that wouldn’t have been noted by a younger Modest Mouse. There are evidences of it everywhere. Ringer T‘s Sorry Verses is yet another example.

The releases I’ve reviewed from the Michigan alt-country band have all been heart-wrenching affairs, wringing every ounce of emotion out of the travails of young love. Their pristine production values and tight songwriting structures honed the misery to a fine point. The most downtrodden of their tunes are right up there with Elliott Smith’s and Damien Jurado’s in the “too sad to listen to more than once in a while” tracks.

Then the band went their own ways for a while, and the time off seems to have been just the thing the members needed. Their regrouped effort is a much brighter, calmer and more enjoyable effort. The songwriting, now freed from the weight of tragedy, is able to be as infectious as it should have been previously. Both the pristine production and tight songwriting have only become more so.

The smooth-toned tenor vocalist isn’t singing too much about lost love, and even when he does, he does it in a way that doesn’t aspire to tear down the walls on himself. Not that these tunes are sparkly indie-pop; this is still firmly alt-county. But there are a lot of Paul Simon touches, like the little strum pattern on “The Easy Road” and just about everything on “Upon a Hill.” It’s Ringer T as I always wanted them to be: they’re making great melodies (“Sorry Verses,” “Here I Am”) in a consistent mood that’s calm and contained. There’s a difference between restraint and restrained, and Ringer T falls firmly on the self-induced, positive, former side for the songs here.

The instrumentation is simple and direct: Acoustic guitar, gentle electric guitar, drums, bass, occasional keys, some auxiliary instruments here and there. Instead of dazzling with the kitchen sink (i.e. Typhoon), Ringer T leans heavily on their formidable songwriting skills. And with their newfound calm and maturity, they crank out some incredible tunes that way.

Sorry Verses has several great mixtape tracks: the poignant “The Sweet Release,” the whoa-ohs of “Sorry Verses,” and the yearning “Let Me Be Your Man.” But it’s best experienced as a whole piece, just like Paul Simon’s best albums. The charms of one song build into the next.

Growing up some gives perspective and allows people to see all that they do in a new light. Whether people grow or fold in that instance is the difference between a success story and an also-ran.

Timber Timbre has a creepy clarity of vision

May 31, 2011

Creep On Creepin’ On is an excellent name for Timber Timbre‘s latest full-length, as the word “creep” serves multiple purposes. In addition to being a fun pun (underlying the hidden but totally there pop sensibilities), the songs here creep along at slow paces and are purposefully eerie.

At first blush, Timber Timbre’s 2010 tourmates (Jonsi and The Low Anthem, both IC favorites) seem to be mismatches for Timber Timbre’s weird-folk sound. Nick Cave might tap them, or maybe even M. Ward on a grumpy day, but the transcendent pop tunes of Jonsi? The hymnal folk of The Low Anthem?

Yet after several listens, the doo-wop pop influences started to sink in (“Lonesome Hunter,” “Black Water”) . The purposefully murky arrangements congealed in my mind as purposeful choices. There may be skronking horns, shrieking strings, and heartbeat bass marking instrumentals like “Swamp Magic” and “Souvenirs,” but “Black Water” is a straight-up pop song that starts off with Taylor Kirk singing, “All I need is some sunshine.” Not a very creepy sentiment at all.

Then, somewhere around that time, the complexity and beauty of the arrangements shone through. I suddenly realized that it’s an indie-rock in the original sense of the word: a band doing what it feels like doing. No trends are being followed here. This is a take-it-or-leave-it enterprise, and it’s all the better for it. The fact that it’s hard for me to describe is good.

That’s not to say that there are no easy points of entry. “Too Old to Die Young” is a jam that could have been on a “with strings!” version of Good News For People Who Love Bad News if M. Ward was singing. Kirk has a low voice, but when he puts it in a higher range, it starts to sound like the vintage-obsessed singer/songwriter. Which is fitting, because Timber Timbre mines old horror/suspense films idioms to create the more out-there pieces of Creep On Creepin’ On.

If hearing a singular songwriting vision fully completed excites you, Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On should be on your list to check out. It’s a bit confusing on first listen, but give it some time and it will grow on you. Here’s to indie rock.

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…

I'm Lost in The Woods

September 16, 2009

The Woods are an experimental folk band, heavy on experimental. There are five songs here that run for twelve minutes on The EP Logue, and not one of them is easily categorized. If the “blink and you miss it” nature of Half-Handed Cloud’s fragmented pop songs collided with the mellower moments of Good News for People Who Love Bad News and then became friends with the wide-eyed, carnival-esque folk of Page France, you might have a good cover band for the Woods.

But that still doesn’t appropriate all that they are. From spoken word sections to gorgeous melodies that appear only once (so maddening!) to clever guitar licks that don’t get the focus they deserve before morphing into something else (also maddening!) to the plaintive and picturesque “Place I” (which is the only fully-developed idea here, speaking from a purely traditional pop standpoint), The Woods cram more beauty and oddity into twelve minutes than some bands cover in a lifetime.

It’s more like a painting than an actual album, and (lo and behold) that’s exactly what they wanted to do. They didn’t name any of the pieces, per se; they titled them with “place”, “person” or “thing.” They want the listener to understand more about a certain point of reference because of these songs, as opposed to enjoying the songs for their melodies and rhythms. As Ian Dudley says in the final track, “Just because I’m singing, that don’t make this a song.”

The Woods seem to know exactly what they are doing, and they’ve created a very, very pretty release. It’s a very confusing release, if you’re not used to or not a fan of experimental work, but it is a good release nonetheless. For fans of Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective, and the like. You can download it for free here.

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