Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Michael's Uncle makes punk rock the old-school way: with attitude

April 23, 2010

Michael’s Uncle and the Ramones would have been good friends. Michael’s Uncle plays primitive, rebellious, shout-it-out punk rock that doesn’t take any prisoners or care what you think about it. The fact that the vocals on Return of Dark Psychedelia that aren’t yelling are difficult to stomach isn’t going to stop Michael’s Uncle from singing them. That’s what they wanted to do, sucker, and who’s gonna stop them? You?

The band is quite tight, which is a surprise. They make a good show of being sloppy and rambunctious (“We Say,” especially), but they tip their hand on “Hellboy,” which relies on several interlocking rhythmic parts. Once I realized what they were capable of, I went back and re-listened to everything, and it becomes obvious fairly quickly that under the disorganized chaos of their vocal performances lies a band that knows itself very well.

Sure, “Mas Na To” is basically a Ramones tune, but “Prej Byznys” calls up a Rage Against the Machine rhythm and mentality with surprising ease.  “Z Kontejneru Smrad” is an entirely enjoyable and convincing so-cal surf-punk tune (not kidding). “Nezmenis Nic” is a Primus-esque battle rock tune. This band has chops to spare, and they show them off to all who are paying close enough attention. This is primarily a punk album, but not in a Green Day way at all.

The only real flub I found in eighteen tracks was the plodding “Moon,” which makes no sense in the context of the album and does nothing helpful to the progression of the album. Every other track has something redeemable about it, and most have lots of redeemable things.

The musicians are talented. The songwriting skills are spot-on. The command of other genres is excellent. This is a punk album worth picking up if you like true punk attitude and old-school punk rock bands. Return of Dark Psychedelia is a surprise-laden release that rewards people who tune in.

PepperDome's experimental hard rock is unique but off-putting

February 13, 2010

PepperDome’s Let’s Try the Otherside is a blast of unrelenting social-activist hard rock that doesn’t really care what you think about it. PepperDome (which is John Tokarczyk on drums, guitar, bass and vocals) embraces everything that he has to offer: off-putting vocals, weird rhythms, odd melodies, and peculiar lyrical choices. It’s all pulled off with confidence, even when it makes me scratch my head.

The strange vocals are the hardest bit to wrap my head around. I nearly quit listening because I just don’t like the vocal tone at all. But the music, which incorporates elements of System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and sludge-heavy rock bands, intrigued me enough to listen to it. It’s certainly a singular vision. There’s nothing like PepperDome happening that I know of.

This is a difficult release to listen to. It’s the result of a complete and singular vision; but that vision is so specific and pointed that it seems to exclude average listeners. I’d pass on this one unless you really like experimental hard rock (Primus, Tool, etc).

Oregon Donor challenges listeners artistically with A Pageant's End

February 7, 2010

I’m a really emotional person. As a result, I connect best with really emotional people, art and situations. I get really into music when I can tell an artist put full emotional weight into the work. But there are more types of music than just emotional purges (thank goodness), and I like a lot of those too. But it’s always the emotional ones that I come back to.

My bias toward emotional music (there, I admitted it) is why I’ve listened to the Oregon Donor‘s A Pageant’s End on and off for six months without ever reviewing it. While there is emotion in A Pageant’s End, there’s a strong rhythmic and technical aspect to the songs that puts me off. I recognize it as talented and enjoyed it aesthetically, but it doesn’t stick. Even now, I can remember a specific riff that was solid, but I have no idea which track it’s in.

But Oregon Donor is in good company in this problem. I prefer Muse to Radiohead, because once Kid A happened, Radiohead just seemed emotionally sterile to me (I still love The Bends and OK Computer). I prefer Rage Against the Machine to Primus, even though Primus is way more talented. This is not a problem with Oregon Donor. This is a personal issue.

I stated those previous bands to give you somewhat of a framework to contextualize Oregon Donor. A Pageant’s End isn’t post-hardcore, post-rock, emo, punk, or rock. It’s an album of music that pulls from all of those genres. It’s very technical music, as the bass and drums have incredibly complex parts, and the guitar lines occasionally exist more for their rhythmic power than their melodic power. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to categorize Oregon Donor, I’d gladly say “serious rock’n’roll.” They don’t write music to make people dance; if anything, they write music to make people think.

“What Good Hate Did” sticks out to me because it has the strongest melodies of the bunch and the most emotional content (“had you any pity, dear, you could have put a bullet in my head/you could have spared me this grief”). It’s also over seven minutes long, which always gets my attention. It’s an excellent tune, and one worthy of much praise. “Older” takes songwriting conventions and turns them on their head, pairing odd rhythms and moods with peculiar guitar riffs and ideas. “Morse Code” is nigh on a math-rock song (does anyone still play math-rock?), with its complicated, interlocking riffs and rhythms.

I should clarify that this isn’t a cold-hearted slab of notes and rhythms. There’s plenty of heart that comes through in the tunes. It’s just that Oregon Donor isn’t primarily looking to pull heartstrings or incite fury in traditional, simple ways. All of the emotions of a regular human being are channeled through A Pageant’s End; it just takes more thought, focus and concentrated listening than usual to discern and understand them. There’s no huge major chord crashing in, nor very many telegraphed emotive parts. Oregon Donor’s complex music makes for rewarding listening if one really pays attention and digs in. I haven’t been able to do that on a large scale, but I have become acquainted with “What Good Hate Did.”

So, there you have it. Should you pick up A Pageant’s End by Oregon Donor? If you like thoughtful, artistic rock, most definitely. But be warned. It’s not easy listening, and Oregon Donor didn’t intend it to be that way. Those who expend the effort will be rewarded, though. I can guarantee you that.

Get Your Head around Muttonhead

March 15, 2009

muttonheadMuttonhead by Constant Velocity is a little difficult to describe, mostly because their style varies from song to song. Part post-rock, part lo-fi, with bits of punk and general alt-rock thrown in, these guys have created a sound that is immediately likeable, yet hard to put your finger on. It’s like The Mountain Goats decided to make babies with mewithoutYou, then asked Massive Attack to be the godfather for the offspring. Anyway, Muttonhead grabs you as soon as you start listening, and doesn’t let go. I’m currently on my fifth straight-through playback of the album, and it’s still interesting and fresh.

I feel as though I can’t even go into discussing individual songs without talking about their sound a bit more. The recordings of the songs on the album aren’t perfect – far from it, in fact. Every so often, you hear something that sounds like it might have been a small mistake, the vocalist’s voice wavers a bit, or something along those lines. That’s part of the charm of this album – it isn’t a glossy, airbrushed album full of studio-adjusted separate tracking for each instrument and extra little effects that can only be done with computer software. This stuff is as real as it gets, and I’m guessing Constant Velocity sounds almost exactly like this in concert, which is pretty wicked considering how good it already is.

Muttonhead opens with “From the McLean Co. Lockup,” a gorgeous bit of rock that evoked my comparison to The Mountain Goats. The song is simplistic in its composition, yet manages to come off as epic in scope as something from Explosions In The Sky or This Will Destroy You. The lyrics are great, with stuff like, “Allow me to pontificate / Whilst I inebriate my liver and kidneys and brain” being the rule and not the exception. This song alternates from soft and thoughtful to loud and bombastic, then back again.

“Kelly” presents an entirely different flavor. It opens with something of a western twang, a musical irony when compared with the lyrics “Kelly don’t like country / Kelly like the city / Kelly I’d like to show her / I’d like to show her I’m not a failure / Kelly, come back to my trailer / Please.” It’s hilarious, frankly. You just don’t see lyrics like that very often. When combined with a raucous, rolling tempo and borderline-country music flavor, the song becomes absolutely irresistible.

Later on in the album, the band delivers a little punk with the song “Truculent.” It’s heavier on the bass, with a really fun sound, a little like Primus blended with the afore-mentioned mewithoutYou. The lyrics open with “Nice truck, asshole.” It’s literary genius, if you ask me. Instead of singing the stuff, the vocalist delivers his message rapid-fire in a style that’s borderline spoken word. This stuff rocks, really. “Truculent” is witty and relentless, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Constant Velocity’s other songs continued to throw me for a loop, each one a little different from the rest, yet with an overarching sound that is undeniably their own. “Time” is pulsating and reminiscent of Massive Attack (they perform the intro song on House, if that helps). “Lucky Double Nines” reminded me of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia.” Perhaps appropriately after so much great music, “In Memoriam” closes out the album with the lyrics, “And you’ve earned it old man / So why don’t you rest.”

This album is long enough to make me love Constant Velocity’s sound, and short enough to leave me drooling for more. Fingers crossed that they crank out more, ASAP.

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

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