I’ve covered French duo Charlotte and Magon since January 2011, and I’ve been mesmerized by their pensive, mysterious indie-rock that draws just as much from trip-hop and Fleetwood Mac as it does any current band. Life Factory is their first full release, and it delivers on the promise. Charlotte’s alto voice commands the stark, crisp tunes with easy authority, and the whole project comes off with a dramatic flair. They can go a bit overboard on the drama in places (“Dice,” “Shellshock”), but tunes like “Motoroïde” and “Black Horses” are excellent songs that make me excited for the future of this band.
Italian band OfeliaDorme is the perfect companion to Charlotte and Magon, as the bands share similarities in sparse, stark mood and atmosphere. The veterans in OfeliaDorme make Bloodroot a standout by not wasting a single moment: every bit is thoughtfully considered, causing the tunes to seem effortless. (Isn’t that always the way?) Vocalist Francesca Bono sits atop the mix, delivering her vocals in a straightforward, almost entrancing voice. Her voice melds equally well to spacious, gloomy tunes (“Brussels,” “Predictable”) and upbeat pop moments (“Ulysses,” “Stuttering Morning”), which results in a nicely varied group of songs. It’s a credit to the band’s songwriting skill that the album still holds together well as a unit. Bloodroot is an album that you can put on and enjoy in its entirety. If you’re into music that makes small arrangements sound gorgeous, this one’s for you.
Swedish outfit E321 adheres more closely to the post-rock idiom than the two previous bands, but they still keep a candle for gloomy, spare atmospheres on three-song release Among the Trees. Opener “The Naked Sea” builds from a lone guitar playing forlorn melodies to a heavy rock section, complete with spoken/yelled vocals that give it a vaguely post-hardcore vibe. “They Call Us Human” and “Among the Trees” follow a similar pattern, but make the quiets quieter and the louds louder. The band shines when it’s turning morose moments into aggressive ones, although E321 doesn’t go all the way by attempting Isis levels of earsplitting clamor. Instead, the band dials in to their comfort zone and turns out really effective, evocative tunes. If you’re into things that have a post- attached to their name, you should check out E321.
Signals to Vega is from Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is interesting because A. it breaks the streak of international bands in this post and B. I once spent a weekend marooned there because of a car wreck. I hold no hard feelings against the town, but if I did I think STV would help exorcise them. This duo does aspire towards the towering metal/post-rock fusions of Isis, as the 10-minute-long lead track “Fear Not the Cycle of Life” alternates between poignant sections of twinkling beauty and roaring double-pedal excursions. The band does both well on Into the Arms of Infinity, as they never lose sight of the melody in the crush of hugely distorted background guitar. No vocals on this one; you’ve just got lots of trilling, soaring guitar to admire. This will make answering e-mails sound way more dramatic and important.
So I’ve been hammering away at semester’s end, preparing documents, administering papers and writing finals. It has sadly forced me to direct my writing attentions elsewhere as of late. But now I’m back!
Em Eff’s We Don’t Know is a collection of mostly-electronic tunes that span the distance between chiptune, ambient and IDM. The tunes skew toward the minimal side of things, trafficking more in mood and feel than in big beats, infectious melodies or heavy rhythms. This is best shown in the pensive, eerie “Ghosts Are Just T-Shirts Napping on Door Knobs,” which layers measured synths on top of a rattling wooden noise that serves as the “backbeat” for the song. “Hibernating Metropolis” and “okay, blue ether” further explore this vein of intricately constructed, highly structured tunes. Even farther toward the mood-based end of the spectrum is “Blue Ether,” a beautiful piano piece so soft and gentle that you can hear squeaking and rattling of the instrument.
There are upbeat tunes as well, like the chiptune-friendly, pulsing “1-Up Down” and the rhythm-heavy “Were We The Machine,” but even these have atmospheric elements throughout. We Don’t Know is an engaging, enveloping release that shows off Em Eff’s strengths as an arranger of atmospheric pieces for great effect. The album is out now on Cloud Collective Records.
Martha Redbone‘s take on things is old. Real, real old. Not only does she mine O Brother, Where Art Thou?-style Americana for the sounds on her latest release, she pulls the lyrics from English poet William Blake (1757-1827). Such an ambitious project as The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake could fall flat, but Redbone sells the whole thing excellently by treating the lyrics reverently but not sacredly. She cares about the sentiments, but she doesn’t let that stop her from putting her own flair and spin on the delivery. This feels less like a reinvention of Blake and more like a celebration of his work from an admirer in a different field.
Tunes like “Hear the Voice of the Bard,” “On Anothers Sorrow” and “I Rose Up at the Dawn of the Day” benefit from the jaunty instrumental rhythms and soulful inflections of Redbone’s alto voice, creating instantly memorable tunes. Redbone is best when sticking in this vein, as experiments in spoken word (“Why Should I Care for the Men of Thames”), Carpenters-esque folk (“The Fly”), and a cappella (“The Ecchoing Green”) are less successful than the joyous, soulful Americana. The highest honors are reserved for the melodious and calming “I Heard an Angel Singing” and “Sleep Sleep Baby Bright,” which are simply gorgeous. If you’re into Americana, you should have this one in your collection.
Metal and post-rock have long been related, as some of metal band Isis’ work sounds remarkably chill and some of Sigur Ros’ stuff is incredibly loud. Red Swingline continues this tradition in Cloud, creating dreamy post-rock and straightforward metal riffs. Erich Dylus, the sole musician behind the project, sets the two genres apart much of the time, as dreamy tunes like “Virtue” and “Spaceman Spiff” never ratchet up to heavy distorted guitar mashing. Instead, he relies on jazzy melodies and chords to do the heavy lifting. “Spaceman Spiff” gets a bit overly jazzy for me, but “Virtue” is quite a beautiful tune. Tunes like “Spiral” focus on his metal inclinations, throwing down some chugging guitar. Title track “Cloud” is the only track that really tries to integrate the two sounds, resulting in the most interesting and unique track of the set. I’d like to hear more of this angle in the future. If you’re interested in metal and post-rock, Red Swingline is one to keep your eye on.
I’ve spent a lot of time and thought on what Independent Clauses should be. It’s gone through many iterations, and I’ve been realizing over the past two months that it’s about to go through another. I’ve always wanted to be the first line of defense for young bands: I’ll review your album if you have zero press, bad spelling and a 3-song demo. If it’s great, it’s great. If it’s not, I’ll tell you what I thought and hopefully you don’t think I’m a jerk. That’s been SOP for IC since day one.
But back in the day, I thought I could do that for every genre. That’s just entirely unfeasible. I can’t be knowledgeable at every style of music. I may like a couple hardcore and metal bands, but I have no idea what makes them good other than the fact that I enjoy it. Even if I heard a great unsigned metal band, I would have little idea how to describe it (and even less clue about RIYLs), because I don’t know the ins and outs of metal.
This is true for me of rap, metal, hardcore, modern rock/post-grunge, blues and jazz. I like a bit of each (K’Naan, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Traindodge, The Flavor and John Coltrane, for starters), but I just feel unqualified to review it. So I’m pretty much going to stop reviewing those genres and focus in on folk, alt-country, indie-pop, indie-rock and post-rock. I’m taking a break from punk so that I can love it again in the near future.
The reason I bring this up is that The Boxing Lesson falls on the outskirts of my knowledge, just on this side of the border. I don’t listen to much psychedelic music, partially because I’ve never had the desire to be high. I say “much” because The Flaming Lips are Oklahoma’s rock heroes, and I listen to their music almost de facto.
The Boxing Lesson has the space-rock/psych thing going on its Muerta EP. “Darker Side of the Moog” features synths galore in a sweeping, atmospheric way. The song transforms into a slow-moving but cohesive bit of pop-influenced songwriting; it’s not exactly go-for-the-hook songcraft, but the melodies are recognizable to those who love a v/c/v setup (me). “Muerta” and “Cassiopeia” are much the same, calling up some Pink Floyd references in their expansive, slow-moving folds.
Closer “Drone to Sleep” is most like a pop song, in that fuzzed out guitar strum and a dominant vocal melody carry the song. It’s still got the synths and spaced-out vibe; its woozy self will definitely still to the core demographic of psych-heads. But people who enjoy meandering pop and folk will find much to love in the track. It really does make me want to go to sleep as the sound washes over me, in a Spiritualized sort of way. It’s kind of like Jonsi, honestly – and that’s really cool. It’s easily my favorite track on the EP.
So, I’m not the best guy to be evaluating The Boxing Lesson, and I’m not too proud to admit it. But it does have some elements that can be appreciated by all — and that’s the mark of great songwriting.
I’ve been getting heavily into post-rock recently, as Of the Vine, Colin Stetson, Industries of the Blind and Isis have all been in my rotation. Final Days Society is the latest post-rock group to be added to their number, and I may be most obsessed with it.
Y’see, I’m a sucker for crescendo. If you can take a tiny, clean guitar line and turn it into a raging maelstrom in about seven minutes, I’ll love it. This means that Final Days Society has tailor-made several songs for me on their album “Ours Is Not a Caravan of Despair.”
“Aeons” takes only twenty seconds to transfrom an arpeggiated, clean guitar riff into a raging wall of sound, but they spend the next 9+ minutes fleshing that idea out. And by wall of sound, I do mean wall: the Swedes (of course!) in Final Days Society have found the right combination of pedals to produce a humongous overdrive which, when strummed at high velocity, sounds like it’s about to crush the world/transport you to the next one. In fact, “Beauty” is all about showing off this pedal combo, as they just hammer the listener with it for approximately five minutes. It’s a revelation. I felt like I was going to lift off the ground the first time I heard it.
But this band isn’t all about destroying eardrums, as “60″ and “To Calm Sea” revel in the moods created without going all aggro, as one of my friends would say. The sparingly-used vocals are employed to great effect on both tracks, using them as instruments. “60″ heavily modifies the voice in a completely fitting way, while the vulnerability of “To Calm Sea” enhances the mood of the song.
The 7 songs on “Ours Is Not a Caravan of Despair” clock in at just shy of 56 minutes, meaning each averages 8 minutes in length. This is not a band that shys away from lengthy pieces. And that’s to the listener’s benefit, because any way that you get more Final Days Society is a win.
This band is poised for big things if they can keep it together. They’ve got the sound, the songs and the chops to make it in post-rock. Long live Final Days Society.
Industries of the Blind‘s “Chapter 1: Had we known better” is just over thirty minutes of heavily orchestrated post-rock. It’s split into three parts: 13 minutes, 5 minutes, and 13 minutes. It’s important to note that, because if you didn’t pay close attention, you’d feel that it’s all one piece. Seeing as they did in fact title it “Chapter 1,” I don’t think it’s too out of place to consider it all one piece.
“I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” is the final track and the second of the 13-minute pieces. It follows a predictable but desirable post-rock formula: start with forlorn guitar, bring in the strings, slow build from there to crashing finale. If post-rock were a country, Industries of the Blind would be making their way through Sigur Ros, with Explosions in the Sky coming up over the horizon.
There are no vocals, and that, along with the fact that the 30+ minutes are only divided into three (or one, as I previously noted), it’s hard to pick out parts of this to admire or criticize that would really mean anything to you. But it is helpful to note that the composers were on to something with the title of “I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” : the half hour is absolutely gorgeous.
Put it on repeat and you’ll fall asleep (and have beautiful, Michel Gondry-ian dreams, I bet). Put it in on in your car and you’re suddenly in a Wes Anderson movie. Put it on during a party and you’re in the weird slo-mo part of a Charlie Kaufman film. I have no idea what would happen if you made out with this in the background, but I would sure like to find out. This is the type of music that dramatic things happen to. It’s really good.
If you like post-rock, you should check out Industries of the Blind. It’s not going to blow your mind like Isis or The Non, but it’s not going to require as much effort on your part either. It is music to be heard and loved. Get it here for “essentially free,” as they note in their website. They only ask that you share it and/or donate if you love it. And you should very much do both.
Yesterday I praised Self-evident for perfectly capturing indie-rock. Labelmates tHE POLES have a similar mindset, although they swing out to further extremes than Self-evident does. tHE POLES’ Twelve Winds sounds like a metal band with the soul of an indie-rock band.
If you play Self-evident right into tHE POLES, it works perfectly. Both bands have a middle-of-the-road stance when it comes to mood and volume. Neither band dedicates the majority of their time on one extreme or the other, preferring to play in the middle ground. tHE POLES, though, have a decidedly more dissonant idea of where the middle is. It’s still not chugga chugga very often, but “We Dine in White” features a Tool-esque bass riff, pressing drums, and dissonant rhythm guitar in addition to the calm, melodic guitar work on top of it all. It is this dynamic that tHE POLES play with the entire album; the tension between gritty sounds and pretty ones. And while there is rhythmic interplay here, it’s not nearly as pronounced as on the Self-evident’s Endings. That’ not what they were going for.
No, this album is all about mood, from the rough-throated vocals to the clanging rhythm guitars to the weird keys that come in at places. Especially toward the end of the album, tHE POLES get into a groove, cranking out several tunes in a row that ebb and flow at an incredibly natural pace. These songs feel like they already existed and were simply captured out of the air by the band, such is the ease with which they seem played and recorded. From the coming-out-of-the-bunker weariness of “Night Has a Smile” to the lost-in-the-woods paranoia of “Gasoline” through to starts-at-nothing-ends-at-thrashing build of “Fire in the Woods” and even on further, tHE POLES have constructed intense tunes that thrash your psyche more than your ears.
This is less likely to stay in my permanent rotation because it does ratchet up toward the heavier end of things, and it’s a rare day that I dial up a heavy album for the heck of it. But if I had to listen to heavy music, this is where I’d want it to be at. These songs are occasionally heavy, but thoughtfully so. They more often fall in that in-between space where it’s so hard to stand out. And tHE POLES stand out in that space, which is a testament to their songwriting skills. Definitely an album to check out for fans of MeWithoutYou, Explosions in the Sky, Isis, and other metal/rock that cares more about mood than ripping your face off (although it does enjoy the face-melting once it gets there).
Stephen Carradini writes far too many words about music you may or may not have heard of. Sometimes he takes pictures of aforementioned bands.