Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

A Road to Damascus' pop-punk is highly enjoyable

April 19, 2010

Even though it’s been raining for the last few days, summer is indeed coming. And that means it’s time for summer music. It’s just hard to rock the Bon Iver with the sun shining and the windows down. Then again, I wouldn’t really consider Last Tuesday, Relient K or The Bee Team during the doldrums of December. Everything in its right place.

A Road to DamascusSo Damn Close EP is an excellent slice of summer music. Pop-punk with enough pop to roll the windows down but enough punk to keep the energy high, the three tracks here sport a sheen that could be construed as annoying if you weren’t taking it at face value. Don’t try to read anything in to these songs; they’re not made for it.

But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great tunes. The vocal melodies of “So Damn Close” are bright without being sugar-coated, perfect for singing along. The darker mood of “Sweetheart” evokes AFI in all the right ways, from the dour but catchy chorus to the breakdown in the bridge to the minor but not dissonant guitarwork. Equally as catchy as the first track, but in different ways. That’s what I want out of a band.

“Sang 3” yanks Yellowcard’s rhythmic and melodic shtick, but it does it with so much enthusiasm and candor that it’s entirely forgivable. While not the best track here, it’s certainly enjoyable and interesting. It features the only moment on this EP to give me shivers, at 2:40. I won’t ruin it for you.

A Road to Damascus’ So Damn Close EP is loads of fun. The tracks are fun to listen to, beg to be sung along with, and would almost certainly inspire fist-pumping at a concert. There’s not much more that I want out of a pop-punk band, and I don’t think that’s much more than the band wants to be. Highly recommended.

Post Harbor brings all the post-rock parts together successfully

January 6, 2010

I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.

Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.

They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.

They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.

Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.

This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.

Tonight We Ride enthusiastically rocks you.

December 4, 2009

The guys in Tonight We Ride are awesome. They’re the type of guys who have at least two hundred thank yous (including seventeen bartenders, who get their own section), thank people twice, give people nicknames in their thankyous, and stick a picture of Montana in the corner of the booklet with the phrase “Ya’ll can f*ck off we’re from montana.” I feel like I would be friends with these guys, and hearing their album Of the West only confirms that.

That carefree, fun-loving character shows through in their music as well. This is a bar band (if you didn’t catch the subtle clues from the first paragraph); imagine the Hold Steady at a hoedown with less piano and a lot more hollering. But instead of the disaffected cool that the Hold Steady cultivates, Tonight We Ride has a much more enthusiastic take on life. There’s hollering and shouting kicking off and closing several tracks, most notably “Heaven Can Wait.” It’s the attitude of goofy pop-punk bands like Last Tuesday, but applied to a much more rock aesthetic.

And that rock isn’t the hardest of rock, because this is a bar band, not a modern rock band. It’s pretty great. It’s the type of music that endears a listener to it. The imperfections of vocal tone are a great thing as opposed to a terrible thing, because it feels so real and honest and fun.

The highlights here are closer “Cash Money,” “Drink Myself into Oblivion” and “Prelude to Hell on Earth.” The first two are rollicking bar tunes, suitable to be sung along to with beer in hand and bros around. The third is a different turn, with their hoedown mentality traded for a Spaghetti Western mentality. It’s an instrumental track, and it sounds great. It’s apparently the prelude to a concept album about 2012 that is forthcoming, which has me incredibly excited.

In short, Tonight We Ride is awesome. If you like fun, energetic, enthusiastic rock’n’roll, Tonight We Ride is here to kick you in the pants and make you like it. You might just end up thanked in the next album as Joe “We kicked him in the pants and made him like it” Smith. Highly recommended for fans of Hold Steady, Last Tuesday, Riverboat Gamblers, etc.

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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