Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Last Builders of Empire / The Slang

October 22, 2014

lastbuildersofempire

I review a lot of music. Like any person who does a particular action thousands of times, I’ve come up with better and more refined ways of accomplishing this task. For me it means listening while doing certain types of other actions, keeping track of any stray thought whatsoever I have while listening, and so on. But sometimes an album comes along that blows up my method. Post-war by Last Builders of Empire forces me to encounter it on the creator’s terms instead of my own, which results in a really satisfying listener experience and (as you’re about to see) a relatively difficult writer experience.

My natural reaction to post-rock is to describe the quality of the sounds and point out the defining characteristic of those sounds. Post-War resists that. The post-rock here is largely dark, heavy, and emotional; it aims for the widescreen angles. The band’s scenes are framed by delicate guitar work; they often build from sweet, subtle beginnings to heavy, dissonant, distorted conclusions. That all sounds like standard post-rock fare, right? That’s because the individual aspects of the sound aren’t really the point of the album (as opposed to, say, an Adebisi Shank album, where they are 100% the reason to listen). The care and attention that Last Builders of Empire invest in the details of the songwriting and wordless storytelling are what make this an engaging, enveloping listen.

The band wrote this work with a specific arc in mind; this isn’t a haphazard collection of songs without context. Set up in a tripartite “Inferno,” “Purgatorio,” “Paradiso” format, this album seeks to be a whole unit. (This is why it is so difficult to talk about its individual songs or even the individual sounds.) Yes, this is a fully-realized achievement, an album that has the plodding dissonance of “Huida Hacia El Sol” as an equally important part of the album as the urgent, yearning “Quiet Like a Knife.”

Closer “For Those Who Have Faith” brings both of those leanings together, pairing a yearning guitar line that finally edges its way over into a major key with a thumping, low-slung rhythm section. The middle section represents a style closer to the soaring, upbeat Lights and Motion style of post-rock than the heavy, brutal Godspeed You! Black Emperor style. It’s still very clearly Last Builders of Empire, but they’re able to transform their songwriting accordingly to fit their overall arc. By the end they’ve come back around to their home base of dark, heavy, dissonant, and emotional–which presents an interesting conclusion to the album. Perhaps “Paradiso” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be–returning home from war is never easy.

Post-war by Last Builders of Empire is not the sort of album you can digest in one song or even one sitting of the whole record. It’s an experience that you have simmer in and immerse yourself in. Last Builders of Empire have taken the time to craft their art in deep and thought-provoking ways, which I always appreciate. If you’re into post-rock, Last Builders of Empire should be on your to-hear list.

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I’m a big fan of two mid-era Jimmy Eat World records, Futures and Chase This Light, that perfectly captured the blend of riffs, rhythmic variety, clever vocal melodies, and mood diversity that I’m looking for in rock. The Slang have a ton of sonic similarities with Jimmy Eat World, which makes me a huge fan of their self-titled EP. Opener “Far from Over” has a vaguely disco opening before dropping into a guitar-laden groove that manages to keep energy going through a midtempo tune (an admirable feat).

Lead single “Feels Like Work” nails the quiet/loud dichotomy in creating a solid radio-rock tune. It feels mature, powerful, and not kitschy–especially when the lead guitar lines come in. The vocals take the lead in “One Step at a Time,” which makes it feel even more like a Jimmy Eat World song. Throughout the EP, there are strong riffs and a great sense of control that keeps this from turning into pedestrian rock. The Slang has an x factor that’s hard to quantify in rock, but it’s very clearly there. If you like thoughtful rock’n’roll that doesn’t turn into sterilized thought experiments, The Slang will scratch your itch. It’s melodic comfort food for me. I look forward to hearing much more from The Slang.

March video drop!

March 13, 2014

Gold Light, who we raved about over here, get their ’50s visuals on to match their ’50s sounds in this lovely clip. Side note: It will be weird when we get to the 2060s and have to start mentioning which ’50s we mean.

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Lights and Motion, not content to make pristinely beautiful post-rock, is now making pristinely beautiful and conceptually interesting music videos with gorgeous cinematography.

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The clip for A Mad Affair’s Americana-meets-Ingrid Michaelson tune “Out of My Hands” features a ballerina (instant win, as I’ve noted before) and very intricate body paint. It’s a great video.

NC indie-rockers Once and Future Kings’ “Hologram” layers a literal hologram (can there ever be a literal hologram? #deep) over scenes of action for a neat juxtaposition.

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The Head and the Heart don’t need help from this little blogger: last time I saw them, I was thrilled to see that they sold out a 2,000-person venue in Raleigh, NC. Still, this video is beautiful and well worth your time. It’s got a ’50s vibe too.

Post-rock debuts

February 20, 2013

lightsandmotion

Debuts are funny things. The cult of genius that critics are sometimes guilty of proliferating puts a lot of stock in the opening salvo of a career; whole careers (even masterful ones) can be defined by the first release. So it’s with trepidation that I heap praise on any debut: there’s a lot at stake for the artist. Still, it feels disingenuous to not convey how impressed I am at Lights and Motion‘s Reanimation.

The origin story of is that of a 24-year-old, self-taught musician working long hours alone to craft an album of sweeping, cinematic post-rock. The album leans toward the “start small, end huge” trope of post-rock, but there are some songs that just hang out in the “start small, stay small” zone (“Requiem”). Guitar, piano and atmospheric synths carry the day, as they often work together to create the big crescendos. Strings also play a large role in the construction of the tunes. It is, above all else, beautiful music: there are no Tortoise-style jaunts into gritty landscapes or Isis-style dissonant roars. If you’re looking for some gorgeous post-rock, Reanimation is in your corner. As Lights and Motion continues his career, I look forward to seeing him expand his sonic palette into some more adventurous waters. But as a debut, it’s an assured and deeply enjoyable listen.

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The debut of Bluskreen happened in 1996, but it’s just being unearthed now. After finding a brown paper bag full of tapes, Tony Ianutti was able to salvage four albums’ worth of glitchy, minimalist post-rock/soundscapes created on fully analog equipment. The unnamed songs on the four volumes of XLIIS90 – The Cassette Archives range from immersive to downright oddball, but they present a very recognizable prefiguring of Bluskreen’s later, more melodic work.

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I’m particularly fond of the openers of each volume, as they cover a lot of the ground that the rest of albums tread. The opener of Volume 1 pairs a highly rhythmic backdrop with a slow-moving, mysterious keyboard line to create an intriguing tension that’s reminiscent of a good video game soundtrack. Volume 2 kicks off with a modified spoken-word clip and a murky melodic motif that set a noir-ish, trip-hop feel. It’s one of the most memorable tracks in the collection.

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The high-pitched, Postal Service-esque beat that opens Volume 3 sets a very different tone than the first two. Though maintaining the heavily rhythmic beats, the tune is much more optimistic than the previous contributions. The profoundly eerie synth sweeps that open Volume 4 give way to some strange sonic and melodic experimenting, which shows yet another side of Bluskreen.

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Bluskreen’s XLIIS90 volumes are a treasure trove of downtempo, minimalist post-rock/soundscapes. I’ve loved all of Bluskreen’s work thus far, and so it’s fascinating to hear the very beginnings of the project. Highly recommended.

THE TRIFORCE

February 6, 2013

The Legend of Zelda is easily my favorite video game franchise, so a video combining Zelda with Dowsing’s brand of pop-punk is just the best. Bonus: including the Midwest. Absolute win.

I’m thoroughly looking forward to covering Lights and Motion’s Reanimation soon, but here’s a gorgeous video for the equally breathtaking tune “Home”:

Sillyboy offers an enigmatic, engaging song and video:

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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