Falcon Arrow‘s Tower is a soaring, powerful, instrumental, drum-and-bass post-rock duo that ranks as one of the best of the year. Now don’t get tricked into thinking this is drone or anything. This album is one of the most acrobatic post-rock albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. Bassist Matt Reints modulates his bass playing several octaves out of normal bass range, making tunes that have heavy, grooving bass foundations and incredible treble-end melodies. It’s astonishing what Reints can wring out of one four-string bass. (The press photo has him playing a four-string. For real. As a bassist, I can’t even believe that this is possible with essentially the same instrument I have.)
Reints is not just a fantastic technician armed with modulating pedals and loopers; he’s a brilliant melodist. And since he’s a bass player, he knows how to use the low-end not just to support the treble, but to interlock with it to create sums bigger than the parts. Finally, since he’s a bass player, there aren’t chords anywhere on this album: everything is done through cascading single-note runs and super-sludgy single note crushers for some grounding. In short, Matt Reints has taken on the job of being the guitarist and the bassist in one of the more complex post-rock bands I’ve ever heard. I have no idea how he remembers everything. I really don’t. Also Dav Kemp plays drums. (Sorry Dav. Bassist geeking out over here.)
You can pick any of the 11 songs on this roughly 40-minute album and have your mind blown, but my two favorites are “Aldebaran Serpent” and “Cantina Empire,” which form the 13-minute heart of the record. (They’re really into sci-fi; JUST ONE MORE THING TO LOVE.) “Aldebaran Serpent” starts off with some crushing, distorted bass, punchy snare hits, and some syncopated bass drum patterns. After inoculating you into the groove, Reints starts tossing off heavily-reverbed runs of high treble notes, creating a gorgeously full sound. Then he modulates up another octave and starts playing even faster, essentially turning his bass into a synthesizer. If your mind’s not blown, I don’t know what will do that for you. “Cantina Empire” leans more heavily on Reints’ traditional instrumental chops, using a swift, clean bass guitar line as the foundation. Kemp supports neatly with some punctuated, staccato drumming. They eventually do drop in a distorted low-end and a reverb-heavy top line; the riff at 1:30 is one of my favorite on the record, especially when put in the full context of the song. It’s an impressive song.
Tower is nothing short of astonishing. It’s gorgeous and impressive on its own melodic merits, but it’s even more mindblowing that two people (and only two people) composed all of this and perform it live. If you’re into post-rock of any variety, you will be blown away by Falcon Arrow. They’re just absolutely incredible.
Dylan Gilbert is a man of many talents. He’s been tirelessly releasing music since 2005, reinventing himself at every turn. Currently he fronts the manic prog/punk/surf outfit Hectorina and abruptly drops impressive acoustic-based solo albums. His latest offering of the latter is Shaken, an 8-song set that relies heavily on his ability of his voice to sound wildly outraged and outrageously wild.
With the exception of the gentle closer, this is an exercise in shout-folk from beginning to end. The ominous title track opens the lot, but he quickly moves away from trying to sound scary and embraces the persona of a person outraged at his misfortune. You can read this just from the titles of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Another Beast Washes Ashore” and “This Woman’s Gonna Put Me in the Ground.” His voice and powerfully strummed guitar (those poor guitar strings) come together to create compelling tunes that aren’t exactly Andrew Jackson Jihad, but something pretty near it. Sean Bonnette of AJJ has a nasally voice that he pairs excellently with frantic guitar strum; Gilbert has a very traditionally attractive voice that he just thrashes against the wall of life’s troubles like a dusty rug. Both are very impressive, it should be noted.
Gilbert does two covers here: the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.” The former takes a song many people know and pours all the mourning that’s actually there in the lyrics into the vocal performance. The latter tries to infuse the weary misery of the track (again) that’s already there in the lyrics. These are pretty much required listening; the source material for both are some of my favorite tunes of all time, so it’s impressive that Gilbert can take both and breathe fresh life into them. Gilbert’s an astonishingly talented songwriter and performer, and you’d be remiss to not know of his work. Shaken should be your introduction if you’re unfamiliar.
Babes describe themselves as sad and horny. I think “Dad” sticks more on the sad side of the spectrum, but the video is quirky enough to keep out of 100% mopeville. It’s now just, like, 75% mopeville.
“Daisy Garden” by The Provincial Garden is also seriously depressing, but the visuals are gorgeous while doing it. The song is lovely as well.
Spazzy, hectic rockers Hectorina show their particular brand of wild, frantic rock’n’roll in a 10-minute live clip. If you’re into theatrical, artsy, off-kilter, I-have-no-idea-what’s-coming-next music, Hectorina should be your jam.
1. “Zeek and Axl Rose” – Automotive High School. The softer side of AHS’ fuzzed-out pop/pop-punk is just as hooky in a completely different way. The band is quickly moving up my “to-watch” list for 2013.
2. “Graveyard” – LVL UP. I keep a special place in my heart for video-game inspired music, and LVL UP’s punked-out geek pop is right in that space.
3. “Not a Riot” – Permanent Makeup. A wiry, low-slung, yelled punk tune with a neat guitar solo. No, for real.
4. “An Inter-dimensional Spat for the Right to Walk Away the Victor” – Hectorina. Not for the faint of heart or ear, this is a math/garage/post-punk/pop tune that is complex and almost entirely unique. If Queen and The Mars Volta got together, they’d both agree on this. Maybe.
5. “Hurricanes, XO” – Beat Radio. Is there ever not a market for enthusiastically fuzzed-out pop tunes?
6. “Come On. Stand Out.” – 7Bit Hero. A giddy slice of Australian electro-pop.
7. “Fame is for Assholes (Feat. Chiddy)” – Hoodie Allen. It finally happened.
8. “Tiny Kiss” – Hey Anna. This indie-pop tune is whimsical and propulsive, with memorable guitar work.
9. “Sandblonde” – The Bear & The Sea. I am here to state that I never stopped loving chillwave.
Awkward Age‘s self-titled 7″ is four tunes of straightforward three-man pop-punk. It takes less than eight minutes of your time, because Vic Alvarez and co. don’t mess around. They throw down hooky guitar riffs, wicked bass lines, rapid-fire drumming and melodic vocals. But it’s not all chord-mashing; they find the time to kick in an unexpected breakdown during “In Montreal,” and there’s a tiny guitar solo in “You Can’t Deny This,” and … okay, the rest is chord mashing. And it’s great, because they know that you don’t have to pad the run-time to improve the quality. If you love pop-punk without girlishly high vocals, try out Awkward Age.
From Dick Dale and “Wipeout” to the Pixies and the San Francisco garage-rock explosion of late, surf-rock has been the ground zero of some wild, wild music in many eras. Charlotte’s Hectorina continues the tradition, mixing surf, prog, punk and garage rock into a zany amalgam. The band’s Hey Hey Safety Man EP crams all of that into three slices that (also) clock at just under eight minutes.
In that span, they find time for three drum solos (one in “Beware of the Red Ape,” two in “K-Town Makes a Comeback”), frantic howling (“Beware”), a straight-forward rock bit (the opening of “Dirty Carl’s Majestic Barba”), and noodly experimental guitar bits (everywhere). By the time you wrap your head around everything that’s happening, it’s over. They say they’re writing a “double-album rock opera entitled Collywobble sometime later this summer.” I can’t even imagine what they’ll come up with to fill a canvas that large, but after this EP, I’m willing to stick around and see. If you’re up for something different, give this one a shot.
Greek rockers The Finger have been releasing song after song from their upcoming full-length album, and title track “I Don’t Believe My Eyes” is the latest. The dark, mysterious tune has a great groove going for it, meshing well with the alto female vocals. The slinky, forceful bass melodies power the song through to the big pay-off—and it is big. You should be looking forward to their album.
Developing: Dylan Gilbert, whose career Independent Clauses has been following for years, is prepping a rock opera with a new band named Hectorina. The band has released two of the tracks at their Bandcamp, and it’s safe to say that they’re heavy on the rock. There’s a ton of different influences thrown in, so this could get very interesting.
New year, new run: I’m going for the New Orleans Rock’n’Roll (Half) Marathon in March. I know, I was astonished that such a thing existed too. Apparently “alternative, classic and punk rock to blues, jazz and soul” will be played at every mile. This sounds like the greatest idea ever. And I’ll need some workout music, so here’s RunHundred‘s top tracks from December: