Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Typist's Midwestern rock and lyrics resonate

January 11, 2012

With that big ‘ol space in my heart for pop-punk, I am drawn by charging guitars and restless youth sounding Whitman’s “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” It’s not pop-punk, but The Typist‘s Midwestern High Life has both in spades.

The Oklahoma four-piece’s debut has a lot of promise in it, as well as a lot of homages to their influences (hello, cover art). And although they also mention “the taxman” in the almost-title track “Midwest,” their love of the Beatles is more in connection with their dedication to the hard work of songwriting than any particular musical inferences. Their songs temper the pop-punk tropes of uncontrollable enthusiasm and huge guitar sound with a dose of determined populism that lands the band close to both the wide-open Midwestern rock sound (old-school Wilco, Mellencamp, Horse Thief) and Midwestern folk lyrical tradition (Woody Guthrie, Bob “People forget I’m from rural Minnesota” Dylan, etc.).

The melodies are appropriately huge; it sounds like the members know how to rile up a crowd. “Gone Gone Gone” features rumbling toms, blaring organ and group vocals, while opener “Let Me Live” employs the same basic elements but with a bell kit on top of it for charm. The verses of the latter cut to tom rolls, sleigh bells and nakedly honest vocals, and I am not kidding when I say they make me miss Oklahoma something fierce. It’s a dangerous move for a band to put its best track first, but man, “Let Me Live” absolutely knocks it out from the get go.

Their aforementioned populist strain is on full display: “All I know is the American Dream / All I know is what I see on TV / All I know is the American Dream / All I know is what I can’t reach” in “Connecticut to Paris (I Don’t Know)”; “The taxman came to my home / Said we might have to foreclose / But I said this is where I’ve spent my whole life” in “Midwest”; and “My God I’ve got to find a better way / Before I suffer Gatsby’s fate” in “Gone Gone Gone.” If you dig it, you dig it – that’s all there is to it.

The Typist is a young band composed of seasoned vets, and it shows: their careful attention to detail in the arrangements allows the entire album to flow in one consistent mood. This is a double-edged sword: it’s easy to hear in one sitting, but it’s a bit tough to distinguish between songs toward the end of the album. As individual tracks, nearly every song works, but they all work for the same exact reason. As the band grows over time and gets more comfortable with its chemistry, I expect some more melodic and rhythmic variation. This will greatly improve the overall experience and produce some even more interesting tunes.

Midwestern High Life is quite a rocking start for The Typist. I thoroughly expect to hear more from this outfit, as their energy, passion, and understanding of both historical lyrics and songwriting have me excited.

Horse Thief captures a wide-open mood and runs with it

December 10, 2011

Matt Carney and I are doing a collaborative best-of list for OKSee, the blog that we each ran for half the year. It’s going to be awesome, and I’ll post a link when it happens.

Horse Thief‘s Grow Deep, Grow Wild appeared in our conversation, and Matt exhorted me to check it out. Matt shares my love of LCD Soundsystem and has rocked out to Colourmusic’s “Yes!” in a moving vehicle with me, so I trust his judgment. His judgment was in fine form when he recommended this album to me.

Grow Deep, Grow Wild is one of that rare class of albums that appropriates a specific feel as opposed to a specific genre. I suppose it’s vaguely indie-rock/alt-countryish, but what it really sounds like is the beginning of a road trip across the Midwest. The music is wide-open and spacious, and the energy bubbles just below the surface.

Opener “Colors” sets the mood with Springsteen-esque drums, foundational organ, distant background vocals, and rattling guitars in the chorus. The whole arrangement is held together by an affected, unusual vocal tone. The song comes together brilliantly, setting the rest of the album on a course that it rarely deviates from. Think or the Walkmen if they toned down the brittle guitar distortion, or Kings of Leon if the sheen of Only By the Night had a lot more country in it. I know I just repped a band with maximum cred and no cred back-to-back, but it is what it is.

The complete control of a very specific mood is the album’s strength and weakness. The call-and-response vocal delivery of “Warrior (Oklahoma)” is one of the few tracks that sticks out in the album, because the rest of the tunes feel like movements of one greater suite. The relatively small number of instruments used contributes to this sameness; I would love to see Horse Thief experiment with other sounds more extensively in the future. The one extremely memorable break from this is “Down By The River,” which busts out Walkmen-like horns to great effect. But to Horse Thief’s credit, there are no downside tracks: this is a totally enveloping atmosphere.

I’ve mentioned the Walkmen several times, and I’m going to do it again: if you’re down with Lisbon, you really should check Grow Deep, Grow Wild out. Horse Thief’s wide-open plains intensity is the Oklahoman answer to the aforementioned’s Brooklynite yowl. The album drops today, so if you’re in Oklahoma, head out to ACM@UCO and hear it, as well as the all-star supporting line-up of The Non, Deerpeople and Feathered Rabbit (all of whom are dear to my heart).

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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