Independent Clauses started out as a general interest independent music magazine: our writers were knowledgeable in punk, metal, rap, electronic, indie-rock, singer/songwriter and more. The project has pared down to a one-man blog over time, and that one man mostly likes singer/songwriter, folk, indie-pop and upbeat indie-rock. Emphasis on the mostly, though, inspires this blog post: several albums from genres I rarely cover have caught my ear over the past few weeks.
One IC reviewer wrote about Caltrop in 2007, urging “fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience this great little demo.” Five years later, Caltrop‘s riffing has matured from an unfocused roar to a pointed boom: the pounding riffs are combined with atmosphere to make a sum bigger than the parts. At points on Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, Caltrop sounds like a southern rock band at nine times the heaviness (“Birdsong,” “Blessed”), while at other moments the members blend melodic interludes with mega-distorted guitars to create genuinely moving music (“Zelma,” “Light Does Not Get Old,” “Perihelion”). Their one-sheet mentioned riff monsters Pontiak as an RIYL, and that’s a great comparison. (Fun fact: Pontiak was on the cover of the first of two print editions of Independent Clauses magazine.)
Greek rockers The Finger caught my ear with their first single “In a Fragment of Time,” which combines modern rock guitars, The Killers-esque synths, four-on-the-floor drums, and a slinky female voice. They held it through various singles before unleashing I Don’t Believe My Eyes. The band expresses a strong melodic control throughout the 11-song album, imbuing each of the tunes with some hook or moment that kept me coming back to it even though I haven’t listened to modern rock in years. The stuttering rhythmic bursts of “I Was So Young” segue into a straight dance-rock groove; “Too Slow” has an atmospheric groove punctuated by tight drumming that invokes ’80s new wave; “Brain Stroke” juxtaposes the smooth female vocals over a pressing track with a squalling chorus guitar line. Fans of Interpol, Paramore and The Killers will find much to love.
Tyburn Saints also have an ’80s rock vibe going on, but they mix their new wave synths with post-punk rhythms. The vocals are a baritone swoon, calling up Joy Division comparisons, which is both a strength and a weakness. But the best tune of Tyburn Saints’ You and I in Heaven EP is “Last Time I Sing for You,” a tune that filters out the rhythmic clank and some of the vocal gloom to deliver a spacious tune that calls up a calmer tune by The Walkmen. It’s the sort of tune that appears out of nowhere, hooks you, and points towards bright futures for the band. Straightforward rocker “Broken Bottles” closes the quartet of tunes, making me wonder, “When you can write optimistic guitar and vocal melodies like these, what’s with all the down-and-out sound?” The band has room to grow, but Tyburn Saints is one to watch.
A single element of Kiseleff‘s A Sound Seal puts the band on the Horizon: the vocals. The album is composed of ten heavily electronic dance tracks that fall somewhere between techno, trance and house. (I don’t claim to be up enough on the sound to discern the nuances.) The ten songs average four minutes each, and they move with a solid beat throughout. These are well-written tunes that would be a lot of fun at a rave/out on the dancefloor.
But the low vocals jar against the sound often. The brighter a track’s tone, the harder the vocals clash: the ’80s-aping “Tightrope” is simply uncomfortable. The dark, moody “The Word” renders my argument null, as the vocalist’s Joy Division-esque vocals fit in perfectly. The awkward vocal lines in the peppy “The City Sublime,” however, remind me why I had the argument.
With a little more work on matching vocals to the tone of the compositions, Kiseleff could be something very exciting. Right now it’s off-putting in too many places.
The Lava Children’s self-titled mini-LP was released a couple of weeks ago. It isn’t terribly long, hence the “mini-” designation, but the five tracks they offer are a good collection of their efforts thus far. The PR blurb I received said something about their music being like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was immediately skeptical – most bands, or at least the agents that represent them, like to think that their band is unique and unlike anything else ever produced.
While this isn’t entirely true with The Lava Children, their sound is probably the closest I’ve heard to matching that claim in a while. It’s soft, ethereal trip-rock, with female lead vocals that range from barely comprehensible to entirely indecipherable, and simple but catchy instrumentals. I kept trying to think of bands that they sounded like, and then realizing what I’d come up with was nothing like their sound. Pixies? Nope, and I’m not sure why I even thought that. Joy Division, Eisley, Sixpence? No, no, and no, though The Lava Children have a little in common with each of them. I’m going to try to capture what their sound really is, so read on, sir/ma’am.
“I Am A Pony” kicks off the mini-LP with a bit more energy than the rest of the tracks. Guitar and bass bits are strong, contrasting nicely with the vocals. They (the vocals) really aren’t lyrical. You can occasionally hear words, but it’s more just tonal singing. Oh, and it’s trippy stuff, if you didn’t catch that, all echo-y and seemingly nonsensical. There’s a cool, if not strange beat throughout. It feels like one of the songs that belongs in a “caper” movie (Ocean’s Eleven, etc).
The album slows with “Particles.” It’s a load of crazy moaning, both from the guitar and from the vocalist. Everything is slow and exaggerated. It reminds me a bit of the later Beatles’ acid stuff. There are tons of effects on this song, which pair with the slower tempo to create a meandering, dreamy effect. There’s something of a dark undercurrent as well. “Troll” is similar, with a long, trippy instrumental intro. It features some interesting changes in tempo when moving between in and out of the chorus, mixing the slightly-more energetic with the dreamy. Most of the vocals sound as though the singer was on the other side of the room from the mic – far away, and a good fit for the overall tone.
“Firefly” includes male vocals in the background that aren’t featured elsewhere. It’s a good sound – dare I say better than with the lead vocalist by herself? I like the effect, anyway. It’s got the same overall sound as “Particles,” though the chorus is clear and has better movement to it. The album is finished with “The Green Word,” a song with great guitar bits and somewhat more understandable lyrics than earlier.
I would prefer to hear more along the lines of “Firefly” or “I Am A Pony” and less “Particles” in The Lava Children’s future releases. Trippy music is all well and good, but it should retain energy and purpose – frankly, trippy for trippy’s sake gets boring. This is otherwise a solid album, with strong continuity between songs. Listening to The Lava Children mini-LP in its entirety makes for a much better experience than giving the songs a listen one at a time. Give it a go if you want to experience something quite different from your usual fare. Trust me, whatever that is, The Lava Children are different.
I enjoyed RadioRadio’s EP Alarm 1 Alarm 2. Being a fan of eighties music, this retro-leaning band would seem a pretty good fit for me. And being from my own backyard in Tulsa, OK, makes them all the more interesting. I can probably look forward to a live show sometime soon.
On to the music. I would classify RadioRadio’s music as alternative retro, with a very big focus on the eighties. Although Alarm 1 Alarm 2 is strong enough to make me pick up their debut album, Watch ‘Em All Come Runnin’, RadioRadio’s Alarm 1 Alarm 2 doesn’t stand out to me.
This made me a little frustrasted, because this shouldn’t be the case. Singer Greg Hosterman has a good voice, and bassist Paul Cristiano really grooves. Drummer Paul Sanders and guitarist Jay Hunt do their parts well. The production is good, and RadioRadio’s incorporation of electronica is well-placed and not overdone–the bane of much eighties music. Though this band has only been recording and playing since 2007, they have a lot of talent and work cohesively as a group.
So what is it about this EP that makes it so-so to me? The fact that they are retro might have something to do with it. Listening to Alarm 1 Alarm 2, it’s not hard to imagine that it might have come straight out of the eighties. The band’s potential originality is buried under ideas that have already been exhausted. For example, the bass lines reminded me of Joy Division. This is in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; Interpol’s debut album is highly inspired by Joy Division. The difference between Interpol and RadioRadio is that the former doesn’t sound exactly like the eighties; there are some updates to the sound.
I know it’s unfair to compare RadioRadio with Interpol, one of my favorite bands. RadioRadio do a good a job for what they’re trying to accomplish – be an eighties-inspired rock band. Fans looking for this will love RadioRadio. As for me, someone who has listened to a lot of eighties music, RadioRadio doesn’t seem fresh and new. Perhaps this will not be the case for someone who has not listened to a lot of eighties music.
It seems impossible in today’s world to just be a “normal” rock band. There always has to be some sort of spin that makes the band different – for RadioRadio, that spin is their eighties flavor, which, admittedly, not too many bands do. Unfortunately, at least for me, this keeps some freshness and originality out of their music.
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.