Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-July Singles: Indie Rock

July 19, 2017

1. “I Wish I Was a Bird” – Luke Rathborne. Builds a cathedral of sound: a stomping, huge-screen affair that manages yet to have low-key fire embedded in it and a humble, earnest vocal performance. This sort of powerful songwriting and production is uncommon and wonderful–it’s indie-rock that manages to be slightly out of phase with the radio (it’s 8:33!) but oh-so-delightful for lovers of the genre. Anyone still rocking the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” will be all up on this, or anyone who would wonder what Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Flame” would be like in indie rock format.

2. “DaDaDa” – secret drum band. I listen to a lot of music while I’m reading or writing. Great songs make me love what I’m working on more. The best songs make me stop what I’m doing and just listen. “DaDaDa” is a perfect amalgam of tons of different percussion elements, low-mixed synths, and the occasional found sound/vocal yawp. They manage to make these basic, skeletal pieces of music into a deeply compelling piece of polyrhythmic indie rock.

3. “Gone Away” – Stolen Jars. Turns fluttering flutes and squealing horns into urgent indie-rock, a la The Collection. The subtle, insistent press forward that underlies this track is a rare thing to capture.

4. “People Like You” – Thumbnail. This tune strides the line between American Football-style emo and old-school indie-rock (pre-major label Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie): complex drums, semi-mathy guitar lines, soft vocals, and gentle trumpet come together into a propulsive-yet-dreamy track.

5. “Tree Trunks” – Basement Revolver. The groove locks in and commands headbobbing. The lurching, loping, slow-moving-train of this indie-rock arrangement contrasts excellently against the intimate female vocal performance.

6. “Part3” – grej. Ominous piano, layered percussion, and stabbing flutes create a tense, atmospheric track the likes of which you would hear in a suspense film.

7. “Great Cop (Fugazi cover)” – New Tongues. All proceeds from this furious post-hardcore rendition of Fugazi’s song about police/policed tensions go to Black Youth Project 100.  Timely content, excellent performance.

New Tongues’s post-hardcore is somehow compatible with Simon & Garfunkel

December 16, 2014

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I don’t cover a lot of post-hardcore anymore; the high-water mark of my engagement with the genre was proclaiming The Felix Culpa’s Sever Your Roots the album of the year in 2010. Since then, nothing has seemed as exciting as TFC’s work. I’ve thrown a review out here or there, but it’s been scattershot engagement with what’s happening in the genre.

Every now and then a band rousts me out of my slumber; New Tongues is the latest band to do it.

Suite is a roughly 22-minute release broken up into Side A and Side B (or four different songs). It can be read, therefore, as one giant piece (suite), two movements, or four sections. (No one can accuse New Tongues of not being detail-oriented.) If you listen to it as one long song, it is a furious, churning salvo of yelled vocals, gritty guitars, rumbling bass, and powerful drums. It spools out like one particularly long post-rock song, if you view it from a high-enough vantage point.

If you break it up into two movements, Side A is the more aggressive side: there’s a lot more work that seems directly born from the hardcore side of the name. After a short melodic intro, the group launches into pummeling toms and bass drums, hollered vocals, and heavily distorted bass. They keep it coming through the rest of Side A: lots of heavy leads towering over a stomping rhythm section.

Side B has more groove going on, right from the get-go: the distortion is much lower on the bass, the guitar is less arch, and the drums are a lot more even-keeled. Side B is also more distinguishable as two different tunes: “El Condor Pasa”–yes, a post-hardcore version of a Simon and Garfunkel song— mashes its way through the final four minutes of the EP. The song’s melody is set up as a pop song’s would be, so it feels different than the rest of the EP. Even though the structure of the original “El Condor Pasa” isn’t 100% pop business as usual, it is a strikingly different way for New Tongues to end their EP.

New Tongues’ Suite is a powerful, churning post-hardcore album that offers up the sound that I’ve come to expect along with some surprises. They pull off the traditional moves with aplomb and make left-of-center ones seem fairly normal. If you’re into noisy work, I recommend New Tongues to you.

Quick Hits: New Tongues

March 6, 2013

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The intersection of post-rock, post-hardcore and punk has often been one of interest to me. It’s a hard thing to nail, especially since The Felix Culpa pretty much established the bar at nigh-on unachievable levels. But New Tongues offer a strong new voice into the mix.

The awesome, DIY title of We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For points back to the era that the band wants to invoke, as well as the practice of listing their album on Bandcamp by “Side A” and “Side B.” (They have an alternate listing for two singles.) Since Bandcamp streams to the next song automatically, it’s more of an aesthetic appeal than a semantic one; still, that means something to me.

The tunes are a gruff mix of distorted bass, pounding drums, shouted vocals and angular guitars. That definition sounds like a lot of bands, but New Tongues put it together with a great control over the atmospheres that they create. They use space, rhythms and distinct song sections to really create the feelings that they want. The band relies on these songwriting skills instead of on walls of distortion, ferocious screaming or virtuosic instrumental performances. This is a band, not a project of one individual person. The arpeggiated chords that open “Old Mouths” fit perfectly with the grumbling bass and precise drums. It feels organic and real, which is a feeling that I lose a lot in post-hardcore.

There aren’t very many singalongs here, if any; that’s not the point of this album. However, it is a testament to the grit and guts of three people (listed old-school style: J. Nardy, S. Johnson, M. Quinn) who know what they’re about and do it well. If you’re into post-hardcore that leans to the post- side instead of the -hardcore side, you should check out New Tongues’ We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For.

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

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