I’ve spent a lot of time and thought on what Independent Clauses should be. It’s gone through many iterations, and I’ve been realizing over the past two months that it’s about to go through another. I’ve always wanted to be the first line of defense for young bands: I’ll review your album if you have zero press, bad spelling and a 3-song demo. If it’s great, it’s great. If it’s not, I’ll tell you what I thought and hopefully you don’t think I’m a jerk. That’s been SOP for IC since day one.
But back in the day, I thought I could do that for every genre. That’s just entirely unfeasible. I can’t be knowledgeable at every style of music. I may like a couple hardcore and metal bands, but I have no idea what makes them good other than the fact that I enjoy it. Even if I heard a great unsigned metal band, I would have little idea how to describe it (and even less clue about RIYLs), because I don’t know the ins and outs of metal.
This is true for me of rap, metal, hardcore, modern rock/post-grunge, blues and jazz. I like a bit of each (K’Naan, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Traindodge, The Flavor and John Coltrane, for starters), but I just feel unqualified to review it. So I’m pretty much going to stop reviewing those genres and focus in on folk, alt-country, indie-pop, indie-rock and post-rock. I’m taking a break from punk so that I can love it again in the near future.
The reason I bring this up is that The Boxing Lesson falls on the outskirts of my knowledge, just on this side of the border. I don’t listen to much psychedelic music, partially because I’ve never had the desire to be high. I say “much” because The Flaming Lips are Oklahoma’s rock heroes, and I listen to their music almost de facto.
The Boxing Lesson has the space-rock/psych thing going on its Muerta EP. “Darker Side of the Moog” features synths galore in a sweeping, atmospheric way. The song transforms into a slow-moving but cohesive bit of pop-influenced songwriting; it’s not exactly go-for-the-hook songcraft, but the melodies are recognizable to those who love a v/c/v setup (me). “Muerta” and “Cassiopeia” are much the same, calling up some Pink Floyd references in their expansive, slow-moving folds.
Closer “Drone to Sleep” is most like a pop song, in that fuzzed out guitar strum and a dominant vocal melody carry the song. It’s still got the synths and spaced-out vibe; its woozy self will definitely still to the core demographic of psych-heads. But people who enjoy meandering pop and folk will find much to love in the track. It really does make me want to go to sleep as the sound washes over me, in a Spiritualized sort of way. It’s kind of like Jonsi, honestly – and that’s really cool. It’s easily my favorite track on the EP.
So, I’m not the best guy to be evaluating The Boxing Lesson, and I’m not too proud to admit it. But it does have some elements that can be appreciated by all — and that’s the mark of great songwriting.
The best artists have distinct phases of their work. Some confine their phase to a single album (i.e. Coldplay), a few albums (Radiohead), wide swaths of albums (The Mountain Goats). Some artists jam all of their phases together (uh, Low Anthem? Are you a rock band or a folk band?).
Gerard Daley, longtime member of The Stuntcar Drivers and Delta House (two bands I’ve never heard), decided to release all of his solo demos from a nine-year period on one CD and call it Diff’rent States. The overlying problem is not his songwriting skill, but the fact that there are an incredible amount of genres and moods on this CD. It’s very clearly a collection of demos. For a person who doesn’t have a love affair with either of the main bands, it’s difficult to muster up enough enthusiasm to power through the myriad of mood changes to make sense of the material.
And I do mean myriad. There’s Counting Crows-esque pop (“Diff’rent States”), a downtempo Pink Floyd-esque number (“Romantic”), punk rock with shoegaze-style vocals (“Superstar”), folky protest tunes (“Stranded Generation”), and a pensive acoustic guitar track with the sound of the waves playing through the entire track. That’s just the first five tracks.
The three things that are constant on Diff’rent States are Daley’s prowess with an acoustic guitar, his lyrical themes and his vocals. Whenever he drops the distortion and goes for the acoustic, his results are solid and enjoyable. His distorted tracks can not consistently lay claim to that honor. From the dramatic beginning of “Buildings” to the romantic “My Lady” to the full-band folk of “The Wrongness of Righteousness,” the results of the acoustic-heavy tracks are just more reliably good than their distorted brethren.
The lyrics are consistently searching throughout. He talks consistently about seeking out truth, understanding what he believes, and questioning perceptions. It’s a refreshing change from breakup albums and love songs, which is what I’ve been encountering tons of lately. Not that there aren’t love songs here (the aforementioned “My Lady”), but it’s not the main focus. And that’s nice.
Daley’s vocals are consistent as well. He has a folk-singer’s voice; it breaks, it cracks, and it generally isn’t perfect. If you’re into the Bob Dylan sound, you may even find Daley’s vocals endearing. If you think that Bob Dylan was one of the worst things to happen to pop music (and there are those people), you should not check out Daley. You will not be pleased.
Diff’rent States is the type of release I would be all over if one of my favorite bands released it. Nine years of unheard demos is just a treasure chest of unheard ideas. But if you’re not familiar with the original work that made the artist worth listening to in the first place, it’s like looking in someone’s attic to try to get to know them. It doesn’t make much sense. There are some good tunes here (“Stranded Generation,” “Forgotten How to Fake” and more), but it’s just hard to “get” it.
The Boxing Lesson claims to be from Austin, Texas (and I guess I believe them), but they sound like they’re from outer space. The group’s latest album, Wild Streaks & Windy Days, establishes a psychedelic, dreamy sound that remains consistent throughout.
The opening track of the album is titled “Dark Side of the Moog” – a funny name for an otherwise serious song. Paul Waclawsky’s guitar riff is head-bangable, and Jaylinn Davidson’s moog playing gives the song its otherworldly feel. The driving beat (provided by Jake Mitchell) adds a heavier rock flavor that makes this song a strong opener. Surely, there must be aliens somewhere out there, doing drugs or dancing (or both) to “Dark Side of the Moog.”
“Hopscotch & Sodapop” has the biggest pop influence on Wild Streaks & Windy Days, which is unsurprising when taking the song title into account, and therefore stands out compared to the rest of the album. It doesn’t differ too much, however, because the guitar and synthesizers keep the mood psychedelic. There is also a breakdown moment in the middle, where the fast tempo slows down a bit; this sounds more like the rest of Wild Steaks & Windy Days.
“Hanging with the Wrong Crowd” and “Dance with Meow” both have an electronica/dance feel, but, again, they still fit nicely with the other songs on the album. Probably the strongest aspect of this release from The Boxing Lesson is their ability to blend several different styles with their own predominant genre of space-rock. As a result, the album has enough diversity to be interesting, but is also very cohesive.
Waclawsky’s vocals really shine in “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” the last track. Its slow tempo gives him a chance to show off his clear, high voice, and it also makes this song sound a little like Sigur Rós. Overall, this album is recommended for Pink Floyd fans, or for astronaut-wannabes. The Boxing Lesson is currently on tour, and is coming at The Opolis next week, for all you Normanites.