Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

More than Skies’ unique genre-blending vision spans emo, indie-rock, and folk

March 2, 2015

morethanskies

I’ve been covering More than Skies for a while, because their blend of folk, indie-rock, and emo/punk is a unique one. On their self-titled double album, Adam Tomlinson’s brainchild sprawls out in all directions, delivering a powerful sound that encompasses all three of its genres on a spectrum. The band is adept at switching between the three within the same song, often staging them back to back for maximum effect. Their adherence to any particular sound is only so great as is called for by the tune: The emotions powering these tracks are what dictate how loud or quiet they should be. This allows center stage to be taken by swooping cellos, soaring violins, crunchy electric guitar riffs, gentle finger-picked acoustic lines, and Tomlinson’s creaky voice at different points throughout the album.

Tomlinson’s voice is an important point here: his nasal vocal tones aren’t hidden in any way, shape, or form. People who like the vocals (which could be compared to those of MeWithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, and early John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats) will have a great shot at loving the record; people who aren’t down with atypical vocal styles might struggle a bit. A second make-or-break point is its titanic length: it’s a full 24 songs, and they aren’t short tunes. This album runs almost 100 minutes. Settle in, friends.

However, if you’re into it, you’ll be very into the total scope of the album: wild, moody, frantic, despondent, and everything in between. Tunes like 8-minute closer “New Year’s Retribution” show off the impressive range of emotion that More than Skies is capable of, moving from gentle folk to string-accompanied indie-rock, then to unaccompanied acoustic guitar, before ramping back up in a punk/emo style (but with soaring strings on top of it). It’s an uncompromising, adventurous song that encompasses this spirit of this uniquely realized release. More than Skies drops March 24.

Goodbye 2014: Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders / The Maravines / Lord Buffalo

January 26, 2015

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Matthew Squires and the Learning DisordersWhere the Music Goes to Die.

The vision of indie rock that Neutral Milk Hotel put forward is alive and well in Matthew Squires. Where the Music Goes to Die is a mindbending mix of melodic sophistication, off-kilter arrangements, highly literate and oft-enigmatic lyrics, idiosyncratic vocals, and an uncompromising attitude toward the creation of the work. Heidegger, Plato, and copious Biblical references weave their way through the album, as Squires spins indirect (“When Moses Sighed”) and direct eulogies (“American Trash”) of American society.

The songs that bear the lyrics are at turns jaunty indie-rock tunes [the excellent “Echo,” “Some Corny Love Song (Devotional #1)”], major-key alt-folk (the title track, “Plato’s Cave”), and doomy folk (“When Moses Sighed,” “A Strange Piece”). Squires’ high-pitched voice keeps the whole ship sailing, as he brings the listener through the collection with ease. The ultimate result of the collection is similar to that of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: Where the Music Goes to Die delivers an almost-overwhelming amount of ideas to take in, but all those pieces unfold through repeated enjoyment of the impressively refined melodic surface level. If nothing else, you’ll love singing along to “Echo”–maybe the Heidegger reference will hit later.

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The MaravinesDistelfink. It’s always a joy to hear a band build and grow from one release to another. The Maravines’ Distelfink follows their self-titled 2013 release by almost exactly 12 months. Their previous offering was a jangly, reverb-heavy indie-pop work; their new one takes those elements and crafts them into a pitch-perfect rainy-day indie-rock album.

From the album art, it’s clear that The Maravines know what they’ve got here: the gray skies and rain over a lush field and a colorful, nostalgic local business sign are a neat analog of the sound. The duo craft elegant, lush tunes that never turn into spectacles: the songwriting, arrangement, and recording are all purposefully tailored to create a consistent sound throughout the record. You can listen to the individual tunes like “Third Floor Statue,” “Maryland,” and “Flowers on Tonnelle” for their standalone beauty, or you can just let the whole album accompany you through (or transport you to) a dreary, relaxing day. That’s the secret weapon of the album: the green fields of the album art. This album ultimately plays not off the stark, forlorn beauty of Bon Iver or Michigan, but the lush beauty of Nightlands, Holy Fiction, and Sleeping at Last. Distelfink is a beautiful, evocative, wonderful album.

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Lord BuffaloCastle Tapes EP. Lord Buffalo is given to long, gritty, Southwestern, wide-open folk-esque landscapes that burn acoustic guitars into ashes and scatter them to the violent Santa Ana Wind. On the other end of the spectrum, they play terrifying post-rock with spoken/chanted/shouted vocals that sounds like the soundtrack to the apocalypse.

On this short EP, they focus more on their expansive, slow-burn sound than their fully-ramped-up version. A cover of Roky Erickson’s “Two-Headed Dog” sets the pace for the EP: it’s a pensive sort of jam with surreal lyrical imagery and a long wind-up that quits before the seemingly-inevitable explosion. The manipulated violins and ominous spoken word of “Valle De Luna” turn into a more abstract tune that’s a little harder to get into, but it still never gets near Armageddon. The final two tracks are essentially parts one and two of the same long song: the pounding, grumbling, low-grade roar of “Mineral Wells” leads directly into the instrumental “Form of the Sword,” which is a long tension release; it’s the sound of the metaphorical tide going out.

Even though Castle Tapes shows off the “lighter” side of Lord Buffalo, this is still a heavy, serious, thought-provoking release. Lord Buffalo says they’re building up to a full-length in 2015, which I can only expect will have more sweeping, booming, indignant folk/post-rock dispatches for us.

Final 2014 MP3 Drops – Indie End

January 7, 2015

Indie End

1. “Sleep City” – Radio Birds. Southern-fried The Hold Steady: Please, thank you, can I have some more?

2. “Days” – Beach Youth. Beach Boys + Vampire Weekend = gold.

3. “Picture Picture” – Tall Tall Trees. Kishi Bashi contributed strings to this giddy, major-key alt-hip-hop/singer-songwriter’s tune. It’s pretty amazing.

4. “Billions of Eyes” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Lady Lamb opens her sophomore campaign with a tour de force grower that moves toward indie-rock, away from the Neutral Milk Hotel-ish psych, and maintains the inscrutable, impressionistic lyrics she’s known for.

5. “Laurel Trees/21 Guns” – Jet Plane. The opening moments of this 10-minute post-rock piece mix fragile strings and bagpipes with grumbling guitar noise to set the scene. The rest of the tune is a leisurely unfolding track that follows that same pattern, albeit with more clean guitar.

6. “New Year’s Retribution” – More Than Skies. What if Tom Waits had played in a punk band and adopted modern folk arrangements to go along with it? This sad, pensive 8-minute track has twists and turns galore.

7. “Lo and Behold” – Sarah Marie Young. More and more people are picking up vintage vocal styles and combining them with modern instrumental styles. Young has a crooner’s voice added to some funky R&B bass and keys, making for a smooth, head-bobbing track.

8. “Pores” – Hand Sand Hand. “Rumbling” is what I call things that sound ferocious but never get a sharp, brittle edge. This post-punk track presses forward with all the power of a much heavier band and keeps me glued to my seat.

Nov. News: Recover and Grow

November 24, 2014

Athens, GA is a huge music town with a lot of history. This means that there are iconic pieces of architecture that are getting lost, destroyed, or run down. Nuçi’s Space is working to restore a historic steeple in Athens that’s associated with R.E.M. (first show ever was there!), Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many other Athens bands. They’ve got a pretty huge crowdfunding goal to make this happen, but they also have some incredibly awesome rewards: clothes from Of Montreal, the pylons from Pylon, etc.

Sleeping at Last has started a company called Emphasis that allows bands to make one-of-a-kind t-shirts based off a band’s lyrics. The shirts include designs as well, so it’s not just words on shirts. This is incredibly cool for bands that have very wordy music (The Mountain Goats! Please sign up! Please!) to connect with their fans. So if you’re a fan or a band, jump on this.

Along those lines, Noisetrade has expanded their services to include fan accounts, which makes a lot of things really easy that were somewhat complicated before. I’m pretty excited about that. I love Noisetrade, and I’m glad to see them grow.

And finally, the RunHundred for November! —Stephen Carradini

——

This month’s top 10 list makes three things clear:

#1. Iggy Azalea isn’t going anywhere. The Levi’s model and rap phenomenon shows up in the list below with two different collaborators—Rita Ora and Jennifer Lopez.

#2. Calvin Harris is quickly becoming the face of electronic dance music. He also turns up twice this month—in a pop hit alongside John Newman and a club track with Alesso and Hurts.

#3. 128 beats per minute (BPM) is the Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris of tempos. By that I mean it’s omnipresent. Seven of the ten songs below are within a few beats of this tempo.

In terms of working out, 128 BPM’s dominance in pop music means that–if you can find an exercise routine that approximates this pace–you’ll never be short of new workout music. If you’ve already got fixed a routine, you can swap in any of the songs from that range and see how they fit. If not, you might try walking, kickboxing, or a bootcamp-style workout—all of which are good matches for this speed.

Whatever this month’s top songs lack in tempo variety, they make up for in the genre variety thanks to a woozy remix from Tove Lo, some Australian folk from Vance Joy, and the fervent rock of Walk the Moon. Whether it’s the eclectic mix that draws you in or the four-on-the-floor beats, there’s something here that will invigorate your workout.

Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.

Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York – 117 BPM

Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High) (Hippie Sabotage Remix) – 120 BPM

Vance Joy – Riptide – 104 BPM

Jennifer Lopez & Iggy Azalea – Booty – 129 BPM

Calvin Harris, Alesso & Hurts – Under Control – 126 BPM

Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care (Cole Plante Radio Remix) – 128 BPM

Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance – 128 BPM

Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow (Justin Prime Remix) – 128 BPM

Pitbull & John Ryan – Fireball – 125 BPM

Calvin Harris & John Newman – Blame – 128 BPM

To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn

Folk Thousand, pt 1: Rogue Band of Youth / Cancellieri

June 16, 2014

I’ve got a bunch of folk albums coming down the review pipe this week, so I’m naming them all Folk Thousand, because Guided By Voices was great at naming things.

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“Listenable” and “enjoyable” sound like euphemisms for “I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” but Rogue Band of Youth‘s self-titled debut LP is immensely listenable and enjoyable. The North Carolina folk outfit have crafted an intimate, relaxed, casual-sounding collection of songs that fall somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.

Opener “Fair Shake” sets the stage of the album with tidy fingerpicking on top of a gentle strum before launching into three-part vocal harmonies. The band sounds completely comfortable here and elsewhere: “Smoke Screens” has an easy flow, while “Blind” has a propulsive energy reminiscent of Blind Pilot. The songs don’t stray from modern folk as a sound, but their songwriting is varied and interesting within those bounds, from country-inflected rhythms (“Daedalus”) to new-school Iron and Wine angst (“The West in My Eyes”). If you’re a fan of modern folk with pastoral vibes and enough angles to keep things interesting, Rogue Band of Youth should be on your to-hear list. You’ll enjoy it immensely.

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Cancellieri‘s Welcome to Mount Pleasant takes a more modern tack on new-folk, leaning toward the warm, rolling arrangements of Iron & Wine’s recent work. The opener sets the stage for this album as well, as “Oregon” includes some tender bass work; distant, lightly distorted guitar; double-speed drums pushing the tempo; and a beautiful crescendo to the end that turns into a huge wash of sounds. These are beautiful tunes.

These compositions sound more like songs than they do folk songs; the arrangement of these tunes is indelibly important, and if you covered them with another band they might not hold the charm they have now. This not just true of songs like “Oregon,” highlight “Lake Jocassee,” and the Mangum-by-way-of-Win-Butler awe of “Mount Pleasant.” It’s true of stripped-down tune like standout “Hold On Hurricane,” whose rapid fingerpicking meshes perfectly with singer/songwriter Ryan Hutchens’ fragile yet clear voice.

If there’s a single thing to point to in Welcome to Mount Pleasant that turns these arrangements from standard fare to the excellent collection they are, it’s the drums. The percussion throughout these tunes provides a spark that is often under-utilized in a post-Mumford world where straight quarters on the kick and snare are seemingly all that you need. The drum work here is complex and difficult, yet remains in the background, not stealing the show. It’s the little things that make the difference, and here it’s the drums.

If you’re into warm, enchanting, upbeat folk/indie tunes, you should definitely check out Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and quite possibly cheered, by the subtle beauty throughout.

Human Behavior: Quirky, perky, cryptic sadness

November 15, 2013

humanbehavior

There’s a long history of happy sounds that contain sad lyrics. My mom’s favorite one is the absurdly happy breakup tune “Smoke from a Distant Fire” by Sanford-Townsend Band. I’m fond of the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland (except “That Was Your Mother”). Human Behavior‘s Golgotha might be my favorite “actually kind of devastating when you really listen close” album for 2013.

If you just press play instead of thinking about how the band name, title and album art go together, you’re treated to perky indie-folk-punk. Bandleader Andres Parada has a voice that works perfectly for the genre: it’s warbly, a touch nasal, and completely earnest. If you’re intrigued by Aaron Weiss of MeWithoutYou, early John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), Andrew Jackson Jihad, and the like, you’ll be immediately sucked in to Golgotha. The rest of the sound fits perfectly around Parada’s voice: a small choir of female voices (who sing in the same earnest manner), instrumental performances that retain an urgent “first takes only” feel, and arrangements that are large without feeling pretentious. It’s all grounded in Parada’s voice, and all flows back to his voice.

It’s “Crag” that opens the album, a jaunty tune that calls up vintage-y, Pinterest-y hipsters who attach deer antlers to their heads and such. It’s all fun and games, right? Right. “Yeshua at 12” is dark, but the enthusiastic “Odocoileus Virginianus” is 40 seconds of wonderful! (That’s the Latin name for the whitetail deer, incidentally.) But as I progressed through the album, a dark undercurrent started to suck me in. “Vintage Dad” ends with the band forlornly, repeatedly singing “I am raccoon, and your father thinks that I am beautiful,” which is intriguing/discomforting in a Neutral Milk Hotel sort of way. “Raphus Cucullatus” is the Latinate of the dodo, and it’s a despondent acoustic strum with spoken word that seems to draw a little too close of a metaphor. It’s not overtly depressing, like Brand New or anything, but it’s, you know, just kinda hanging out in background of my brain as maybe not what it seems.

But then I listen to “Crag” again, and the phrases of the chorus are “I’ll strap antlers to my head/and I’ll attract wild dog packs/and I’ll make the woods walkable,” which is either a threat to wild dogs or a commitment to sacrifice in a bizarre way. Also the lines “I don’t want to be attractive,” “I know that I don’t love you two too,” “I’ll probably die sad/and I’ll probably do it by my hand” appear, all of which make me deeply reconsider the wisdom of sending this to my girlfriend because it’s perky and fun. In short, the layers at which you can appreciate Golgotha are multiple, but the deeper ones may render your shallower ones a little bit impotent.

So, are you into folk-punk? Are you into depressed singer/songwriters? Are you into both? If you’re into either of the first two, Golgotha is a fascinating and engaging album. If you’re in the third camp, I suspect that Human Behavior will be quite a find. It’s like a dark mirror of Illinois-era Sufjan, or an alternate-reality Mountain Goats.

Quick Hits: Cloud Person / Cfit / Inner Outlaws

October 26, 2013

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Cloud Person‘s Monochrome Places mashes up Irish folk arrangements, Spaghetti Western drama, folk-pop melodies, and a dash of indie-pop flair to create a unique amalgam that is anything but monochromatic. From the Gaelic rhythms and sounds of “Robber Barons” to the ominous Western/Southern mash-up of “Old Demeter” to the Neutral Milk Hotel-ish “Lamppost Eyes,” Cloud Person never lets the listener’s attention wane.

Despite the variety of sounds, the albums hangs together: each part has its turn in the spotlight before all sharing the stage in triumphant closer “Men of Good Fortune.” It’s a full and fascinating album, showing off the significant songwriting skills of Pete Jordan. It takes a strong imagination to even conceive of a thing like this; it takes a humongous amount of work to pull it off with the seeming ease and easy confidence that Jordan and company do. Monochrome Places is a work that should be of great interest to those who like seeing boundaries pushed and disparate sounds integrated into a cohesive whole.

Cfit‘s Morning Bruise EP is an aptly titled release, dousing a hazy, early-morning feel with a deep melancholy. Instead of going the fuzzy, chillwave route, the band modifies the trip-hop format: opener “Coke and Spiriters” transforms strings and stark vocals with a brittle drumbeat to create tension. The ambiguity of the mood is repeated in the lyrics; say the name out loud and listen to what you’re saying. “Heliophelia” uses the same musical tactics of loose, smooth vibe vs. structured rhythmic elements; the morose-yet-soaring “Tenderfoot” sounds like Cfit’s version of “Karma Police” (which is high praise, over here). The vocalist doesn’t sound exactly like Thom Yorke, but it’s close enough for a good comparison–and comparing Cfit to mid/late-era Radiohead isn’t that bad a comparison either. Both are fond of creating disorientation and discomfort out of musical pieces that we’re otherwise very comfortable with. Artsy indie-rock will always have a place in my heart, and so it goes with Cfit.

inneroutlaws

Inner Outlawsself-titled two-song EP also can be compared to a Radiohead work, both in scope and mood. “Points of Fire” is almost six and a half minutes long, while “Bodies of Water” is nine and a half. The two tunes are rock tunes that subsume all sorts of things within them: pseudo-funky breakdowns, folky asides, ’70s rock sections, crunchy riffs of harder indie rock, even psychedelic bits.

The songs are journeys that are impossible to predict: that’s half the joy in listening, to follow around the whims and fancies of the band. The other half is their melodic prowess, which allows for discrete memorable sections within the overall wholes. One of the most memorable is a dreamy, Lord Huron-esque section toward the end of “Bodies of Water;” another highlight is the OK Computer-esque rock just after the intro of “Points of Fire.” If you’re into adventurous music that will defy your expectations, Inner Outlaws is your band.

The Parmesans / Anamanaguchi / Twin Forks

October 16, 2013

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Pop-folk has started to take over the radio. I never would have guessed that I’d write that sentence, but there it is. We’ll know that the domination has become total when The Parmesans make it to the radio: they take pop-folk one step farther down the line, playing a very pop-friendly form of bluegrass. Debut album Wolf Eggs is 15 (!) songs of melody-heavy folk/bluegrass that will make you want to tap your foot, clap, and sing along. Opener “Spicy Cigarette” sets the mood for the rest of the album by introducing a guitar/mandolin/stand-up bass trio tracked live, with each of the members contributing harmonized vocals. They even shout “hey!” in the middle of the mandolin solo. How can you not love that sound? “Load Up on Eggs” features a trumpet to great effect; “JuJaJe” recalls the Avett Brothers in blocky, chord-based style; “The Riddle Song” will steal your heart away (or the heart of whatever significant other you play it for).

While “The Riddle Song” is beautiful musically, its title implies that the lyrics are the main point, and so they are. The Parmesans are not slouches in that department, which makes this album even more enjoyable. There are plenty of standard references to alcohol (“Spicy Cigarette,” “Wine in My Mustache”), food (“Load Up On Eggs”), and various agricultural things (“Hay,” “Chicken Yard”), but there’s also a knowing wit in these tunes. The tropes may be a beard, but they’re not fake: the lyrics use the goofy top layer to speak to real emotions and situations. It’s fun and real. How often do you get that?

The Parmesans know what’s up on Wolf Eggs: they give you a large set of tunes that are memorable melodically and lyrically. It’s fun, funny, and even sentimental. What else do you want out of a folk album? Wolf Eggs is one of the best releases I’ve heard all year, and I expect to see it in my end of year lists.

ENDLESS-FANTASY-DIGITAL-COVER-ART

I love chiptune. As I write this sentence, I’m listening to chiptune version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” because seriously, I’m committed to this genre. Anamanaguchi is also wholly invested in the genre, as their Endless Fantasy shows. They’ve thrown down 22 songs on the album, and all of them are chock full of mostly-instrumental warp-speed pop-punk shot through with enough jubilant chiptune melodies to make 1988 Nintendo jealous. If you can’t get happy while listening to this music, I don’t know what can help you. This is the aural equivalent of drinking a Red Bull. It’s the most fun music I’ve heard all year. The members are sneakily talented at arranging these songs so that it doesn’t get boring, but that’s not the point. Bouncing off the flippin’ walls is the point. And you should do that. Heartily. With gusto.

twinforks

I’m not going to lie: I loved Dashboard Confessional. I was the right exact age for that to be my jam in high school, and there’s just no way I can sit here and say that I didn’t holler along with those songs unabashedly. I pulled out The Swiss Army Romance when I heard that the Chris Carrabba-fronted pop-folk band Twin Forks was among us, and it was one of the most nostalgic things I have ever experienced. I felt like I was 16 again, really and truly.

So it should not surprise you that I’m about to say that Twin Forks is awesome. I mean, how could it not be? This guy has tons of experience writing songs on an acoustic guitar, and now he gets to put banjos and mandolins around it. He sings like he sings. If you hate his voice, well, you’re probably not reading this sentence, because you already left. This is exactly what you think it would be, and that’s great. The more critical quandary goes something like this, a la Phillip Phillips: is this a shameless play on what is popular? Is it a “right time at the right place” thing? Is it simply boredom on Carrabba’s part? The populist in me has an answer: I DON’T CARE ONE BIT. If you need more Dashboard Confessional, or more pop-folk, jump on Twin Forks’ self-titled EP. You will sing and stomp and dance and I’m going to stop before I go all caps on this. I’m just all about it. Yes.

Venna's magnificent folk tunes shine

February 18, 2013

venna

The Civil Wars left a gaping hole in the hearts of many when they split up in 2012 over differences in “ambition.” I would like to humbly submit that every Civil Wars fan missing heartfelt, passionate guy/girl folk songs should salve their wounded soul with Venna‘s Third Generation Hymnal: Heather and Marky Hladish’s gorgeous, winsome tunes shine lyrically and musically.

Heather Hladish’s vocals are in turns lilting (“Meet Me in the Hammock”) and driving (“Sweden is the Reason”), providing the engine that powers these tunes. Her most captivating turn comes in lead track “Married,” a performance that pulls off both vulnerability and quiet confidence with ease. “I am content with wanting” is a devastating line in its layers of meaning, and the aching delivery only adds depth. Her wonderful vocals are a consistent draw throughout the eight-song album.

The instrumentals are nothing to shrug at, either. With several veterans of IC’s beloved The Felix Culpa strumming the strings, it should go without saying that the arrangements here are gold. I’m especially fond of “Sweden is the Reason,” which employs driving rhythms, dense texture and bright horn arrangements that are each reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel. “Quitting Contest” offers us a huge, sweeping arrangement that is worthy of losing yourself in. “Danger – Past & Present” shows off their Americana bonafides, while “12 Shades to the Wind” appeals to fans of modern folk singer/songwriters.

The spartan strum patterns and arrangement of “12 Shades” are not the only attractive elements, as the lyrics are profoundly beautiful. Drawing off lyrics from the little-sung third verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” Hladish spins a tale of yearning: “Give me a vision/a beauty that kneels/sweet absolution/to cover these years.” The already-mentioned lyrics of “Married” are also impressive in their form and content; “Meet Me in the Hammock” is a very thoughtful piece as well. These are heavy, meaningful words that come off without being ponderous due to Hladish’s stunning voice.

The eight tunes of Third Generation Hymnal are all worth lauding. These magnificent melodic folk tunes are thoughtfully conceived and executed incredibly well. What more can you ask for in an album?

The Ascetic Junkies pack their indie-folk full of instruments and ideas

January 21, 2011

There are many reasons that people love Neutral Milk Hotel: great songs, brilliant lyrics, perfected moods, indie mainstay, etc. But one thing that people don’t think about as often is how many ideas are jam-packed into its songs. Every moment bursts with riffs, melodies, rhythm and instruments. It’s just entirely unexpected the first (and 40th) time you hear their work.

The Ascetic JunkiesThis Cage Has No Bottom is much the same way. These twelve songs jam more ideas into 40 minutes than some bands have in a discography. Instruments appear and disappear unexpectedly. Tempos suddenly drop, then raise just as quickly. Songs lead you in one direction, only to jerk you in another. This album is an experience, and it only helps its case (at least, here at Independent Clauses) that This Cage Has No Bottom is a post-folk indie-rock album much in the same way that In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is.

It also reminds me of O Fidelis, as the vocal duties are shared between Matt Harmon and Kali Giaritta. They both have voices strong enough to carry a band, so having both of them only makes the album that much stronger. The wildly varied instrumentation only backs up their solid voices, not just including but often pairing banjos, synthesizers, bell kits and mandolin in addition to bass, guitar and drums. It’s an enthusiastic party inside a hip music store.

How hip? “(Don’t) Panic” is a folk/funk song, as they create a supremely get-down dance-floor groove with nothing but acoustic instruments and a clean electric guitar. I mean, there’s a ukulele in it. It doesn’t get cooler than that.

“Get What You Want, Get What You Need” opens as an old-timey bluegrass tune, which sounds great with the guy/girl harmonies. But that’s not enough to be an Ascetic Junkies song. They throw in some celebratory horns, bombastic drums, a laughing section (!) and bluegrass fiddle for good measure. “Crybaby” is a straightforward country-rock stomper that was apparently recorded totally live. You’d never be able to tell – it’s that tight. This band must kill it live.

“God/Devil/Gov’t” is amazing as well. It’s the most intricately constructed tune here, lyrically and musically. The lyrics sing of looking for help wherever it will come from, and rejecting those sources of help if they fail. The satirical tune punctuates the proceedings with a refrain of “Hallelujah!”, which making various points about the organizations mentioned through different instrument and mood choices in the particular verses. I’m telling you, it’s amazing.

I could go on for much longer about this album, but it would be overkill. If you like indie-rock with acoustic guitars and horns featured prominently in the mix, you’re gonna love the Ascetic Junkies’ This Cage Has No Bottom. It’s one of my top ten of 2010, for sure. There’s just nothing as well written, performed and produced in indie-folk this year. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

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

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