Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Bright Light Motion plays competent pop/rock that doesn't break the mold

March 10, 2010

I love pop music. I proudly claim the All-American Rejects as fellow Oklahomans, I get down to We the Kings and Boys Like Girls, Snow Patrol are my boys, Gavin Degraw is the man, etc. etc. But it’s really, really hard to do well. That’s why bands appear for one good song, then disappear (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Anyone? Eh?). You have to be a genius songwriter or have an outside angle to hook people if you’re going to be in the pop/rock genre.

The Bright Light Motion is a band of good musicians. They write competent tunes that would fit in well on radio. But they don’t have an outside hook (Snow Patrol’s accent, peculiar instruments a la Cake or Yellowcard, theatrical songwriting twists a la Panic! at the Disco, dance beats a la everyone on the radio right now) to set them apart. Their four-song EP For All the Right Reasons passes pleasantly but not impactfully. The best moment comes in the end of “Wither,” where they drop out the guitars and bring in the choir of chanting hipsters, which segues into a neat whoa-o section with a cool synthesizer. They’re tried and true pop tricks, and BLM uses them to good effect. If it ain’t broke…

“Oceans Away” is a mid-tempo headbobber that shows off the vocals but doesn’t push any boundaries. “Love Wakes the Dead” starts off with a nice little riff and a vaguely danceable drum beat, but it crashes back into chord-mashing mode for the chorus and kills whatever momentum the band had built up creatively.  The song serves as a sign that The Bright Light Motion has some songwriting chops waiting to be released; they just didn’t get into this EP.

There is not a thing wrong with The Bright Light Motion. The vocals are good, the recording is tight, the songs have melodies to hum, and there’s more than enough charm to go around. But it just doesn’t add up to anything out of the ordinary. And that’s the hardest curse to break.

Play the Angel plays perfect radio rock

February 14, 2010

Ever since Nirvana became the world’s most prestigious rock band by playing distorted pop songs, the line between pop and rock has been blurred. To me, it’s pretty much an attitude at this point. Modest Mouse is a rock band, mostly because they sneer at anything and everyone who doesn’t fit into their ideas of the way things should be. Even though Three Days Grace, Hinder, and even Nickelback play “rock’n’roll” by modern standards, they are pop bands. They are pop bands because they act like preening pop stars and not like rock stars (i.e. hedonistic excess does not a rock band make).

Play the Angel is one of the best pop bands I’ve heard in years. They play “rock” by the radio’s standards, but they don’t have any of the attitude of a rock band. And that’s a good thing, because they embrace their pop star aesthetics and give the people what they want. There are five songs on this EP: straightforward rock’n’roller, major-key powerballad, dance-rock tune, whoa-oh pop-punk tune, and Gavin DeGraw-style emotive piano ballad. They have real names, of course, but they each fit excellently into their own radio niche. “So what?” you say. “Bands do that crap all the time.”

Yeah, they do, but they do one of the genres better than the other. Play the Angel does all five right. They could release every song off this EP as a radio single and, with proper label backing, they would have five number one hits. Their songwriting is just that good. Their vocalist has an incredibly appealing voice that’s a tad lower than Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects but just as emotive. Their production values are pitch-perfect. The band knows when to get out of the way of the vocals and when to crash in for the emotional payoff. Play the Angel does everything right.

If you like anything on rock radio right now, from Fall Out Boy to Hinder to Panic! at the Disco to Paramore to All-American Rejects and anything in between, you’re going to absolutely fall in love with Play the Angel. I don’t have a clue why this band hasn’t shot to the top of the charts yet. They’ve got every piece of the puzzle in line. They just need to see the right guy at the right gig who turns them into mega-stars. Cause, geez, they’re infinitely better than Nickelback. And that crap still sells millions. Again, if you turn on the radio and like anything you hear, Play the Angel is there for you. It’s that good.

Hopes and Dreams dashed on the rocks

April 14, 2009

In a world full of Fall Out Boys, emo bands and imitators, the first several measures of Faster Faster’s Hopes and Dreams show that this band has done next to nothing to change that world.

Faster Faster brings nothing new or interesting to the table of bubble gum pop rock. This is everything you would expect – high-toned vocals that try to sound happy when the lyrics are about immature teenage love with song titles that try too hard to be clever. If you’ve ever listened to Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Armor For Sleep or any of the other number of bands with similar sounds, you know what to expect.

The musicianship at work is good. The group is obviously more than capable of playing their instruments well. Randall Dowling and Christian Mosely are both obviously adept guitarists, able to fill the gaps between vocals with compelling hooks. The bass and drums tend to take a backseat, the bass more so than the drums. Vocalist Kyle Davis is a mixed bag. He obviously has a strong set of pipes, but his style ends up sounding like an odd fusion of Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly and it doesn’t come off well. It just sounds derivative.

The main problem with Hopes and Dreams is that it just doesn’t seem to show any originality. It’s not that these guys are necessarily a bad group of musicians, it’s just that they’re sticking too much to their influences. Faster Faster simply comes off sounding like a good cover band than a band in its own right, which is simply unfortunate.

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

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