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.
Rap is one of the more confusing genres in the world to me. I like it, don’t get me wrong. But when I’m reviewing independent hip-hop, a lot of the things I use to weed out bad indie-rock don’t apply. There are plenty of rappers with annoying voices. There are plenty of rappers who have beats so sparse as to not even be important. There are plenty of rappers who jam their tracks full of singers to the point of clutter. Making up words, coming up with goofy phrases, generally being weird? All standard in rap.
So, reviewing underground rap is pretty much a crapshoot. There are a few rappers that rise above, but the K’Naans of the world aren’t really going for the radio right now.
All that to say, if you like mainstream rap, CR Gruve is your new fave. Their beats are tight, their flow is solid, their rhymes are good, and their sound is cohesive. They talk almost entirely about sex, women, partying and dancing; but so does everyone else in the rap scene. CR Gruve’s eight-song album The Naughty and the Nice fits in perfectly with other club rap right now. It’s nigh on indistinguishable, really, which is good and bad. They’re ready to make it big, because they’ve adopted and adapted a tried and true sound, but on the other hand, there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard.
But it is enjoyable. The hooks are solid, like on “Senorita” and the surprisingly tender “Milf Song.” The jams are upbeat on “Water” and slowed down on “Lunar Dance.” There’s some funky stringed bass action on “Frisky,” and the electronics get play in “Trollin.'” So, if you like radio-friendly, club-bangin’ rap, CR Gruve got your back.
As a significant portion of the staff is at Austin City Limits, with the most of our other members pining to be there, a list is in order.
Bands Stephen Carradini is Most Excited to See at ACL
5. Daniel Johnston. I am not so much interested in his music as I am in actually witnessing him. Read my post here for more details. In fact, reading that essay again, I really recommend you do read it.
4. The Low Anthem. I really, really can’t wait to hear “Charlie Darwin” live. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful song. The fact that the Low Anthem will be the first band I see at ACL makes it all the more desirable.
3. K’Naan. I have never been to a rap show where I actually knew the material. This, paired with the fact that K’Naan seems effortlessly effervescent, should prove to make an out-of-this-world show.
2. Bon Iver. The only folk artist who has intrigued and excited me more in the past year is Joe Pug. And I listen to lots of folk. I hope there’s a full band, because “For Emma” without the trumpets would make me sad, and defeat some of the joy of that song. Maybe he can jack the brass section from Los Amigos Invisibles.?
1. The Avett Brothers. This is more of a pilgrimage than a dedication to their music. “Ballad of Love and Hate” and “Murder in the City” (neither of which will get played, I think) are two of my most favorite songs in the world, and because there’s a slim glimmer of a chance that one or both may be played, I’m hustling on over for the entirety of their set. Also, I hear they rip it up live, which will be fun.
Honorable Mentions: Flogging Molly, Andrew Bird, The Walkmen.