Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Phratry Week: Swear Jar

July 18, 2011

Although not the loudest of the Phratry bands, Swear Jar still packs quite a wallop. The basic idea from the band is yanked from that time in the early ’80s to the late ’90s when punk rock became a true art form: let’s play loud, fast and hard, but not necessarily the way everyone expects us to.

Swear Jar’s punk rock never slips into musical pretension, which is to say it imagines ’98-now never happened. There are still good old punk rock sections (“Blinders”), but there are also sections of straight-up noise (“Sasquatch”), spoken-word post-hardcore (“Bad News”),  and lots more.

It’s the atypical rhythms and the bass that make Cuss the fantastic trip it is. Just when you think you know where a Swear Jar song is going, it’s not going that direction anymore. The drums have changed on you, or the bassist has gone nuts in a new way.

The metallic edge and “turn that way up, man” volume of the bass guitar in the mix makes for an arresting sound that doesn’t appear often anymore. Since there’s only one guitar in this band, the bassist has a distortion pedal on hand to take the rhythm guitar bits when the guitar is “soloing” (“On the Prowl”). In “Lonely,” it sounds like the bass is leading the sound and the guitar just there for rhythm. The interplay between the three members of the band is fascinating: see hyperkinetic “Rastallica” for all you ever wanted to know about band chemistry.

Here’s a note to prove the quality of this album: all of these examples come from the first half of the disc. Yeah. This band knows what’s up. If you’re a fan of serious punk rock (i.e. people who disagree that Green Day ever existed), Cuss should be a smorgasbord of delights.

Attica! Attica!'s energizing folk punk encourages listeners to stay thoughtful

June 27, 2011

My first musical love, as I’ve professed before, was pop-punk. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a passion for acoustic music. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, in my book, acoustic punk is one of the best ideas ever. Violent Femmes ftw. Also Andrew Jackson Jihad.

Attica! Attica! knows acoustic punk/folk punk. This makes sense once you know that the only member is punk lifer Aaron Scott, who (amongst other credentials) sang for De La Hoya and Marathon, runs a blog about house shows and other DIY life, wrote this great piece about sexism in punk and is the type of guy who posts his correctly-punctuated lyrics prominently on his website. It’s safe to say that Scott’s spent a lot of time writing songs and thinking about stuff. It’s not surprising that Napalm & Nitrogen is awesome.

If AJJ has the hyperactive “We Didn’t Come Here to Rock” as its shout-it-out winner, this album has “Hobo Chili.” It’s unsurprisingly about lovely house shows and celebrating local culture. (Proposed alternate title: “Keep Everywhere Weird.”) The lyrics are incredibly literate, eschewing a repeated chorus slogan and instead using the same meter and melody with new lyrics each time. Don’t worry, there’s a huge “whoa-oh” section so you can sing along, even if it’s the first time you’ve heard the tune. It won’t take you long to remember the fascinating lyrics, but Scott is the type of guy who knows his strengths are also limitations and throws noobs a bone. I appreciated it.

Oh, and it’s hyperactive as anything.

As with the best punk (and this is some of the very best), the album is immediately lovable for its energy, melodies, attitude and random slogans you catch on the first listen (“THERE’S A WAREHOUSE SHOW! OUT IN NEW MEXICOOOO!”), but it’s even more enjoyable once you catch all the lyrics and think about what he’s saying. Lots of bands have the first half, but not many get to the second part.

That’s why you should purchase Napalm & Nitrogen instead of something else: “I Knew I Shoulda Taken That Left Turn at Albuquerque” is brave enough to acknowledge the truth that sometimes life on the road (which is rightly celebrated elsewhere) just sucks. “The Children of the Broken Glass” is the honest-but-yet-hopeful story of the Millenials; lots of people want to be the voice of a generation, but they haven’t written “The Children,” have they? “The End of Art” is too brilliant for me to try to fit it into a sentence. It also is a great vehicle for more whoa-ohs (I’ll never get enough) and Scott’s intense, impassioned voice. His distinct pipes are yet another reason this album is great.

I could keep listing great things about this incredible album for a long time: DIY attitude, mellow piano tunes, an accordion in “The Good Ones Go First” … but if you aren’t sold by now, you won’t be. That’s your loss.

This release was originally put out in 2009, and recently received the vinyl treatment from Black Numbers. You can also get it as a pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp.

The One Through Tens impress with a sneering, indignant set of punk/funk tunes

February 20, 2011

I believe the quintessential feature of rock’n’roll is rebellion, and the fundamental element of punk is indignation. My diminishing amount of rebellion has lead me to seek out less rock bands, but my growing indignation over the state of the world has caused me to seek out talented, angry punk bands.

They’re increasingly difficult to come by in this entertainment-seeking age. When you’re only trying to entertain yourself, it greatly decreases the amount of topics that you care enough about to become indignant over. Our culture is anti-punk.

Thankfully, The One Through Tens have indignation to spare. It oozes out of their funk-informed sound and into the title of their album: Fighting for a Golden Age. The One Through Tens are not taking this sitting down.

And by funk, I don’t mean Parliament/Funkadelic. I mean Rage Against The Machine-style, angry white boy funk. The band sets in with it on track two (“Dyin’ Blues,” naturally), and keeps it as a vital element of the sound for the entire album. There is some punk riffing here, in “Run From Your Master” and the Offspring-esque title track, but the punk is mostly upheld by the sneering, impassioned vocals and the swagger with which the whole thing is pulled off.

In fact, the songs are more often than not slow. Some are even slow and quiet. But they never let up the intensity, no matter what the music sounds like. Whether it’s stomping out some Queens of the Stone Age-style rock on “Crazy For You,” fuzzing out for a stoner rock trip in “Religious Fervor” or impersonating RATM on highlight “So Damn Sad,” this band is a punk band through and through.

Fighting for a Golden Age is a stellar punk release in an era that isn’t conducive to those. The understanding that the band members were swimming upstream to make this album reinforces the power and maturity of this release. Isn’t that what punk is supposed to be about?

Porcupine's technical, impressive rock recalls an earlier time

June 21, 2010

The songs on Porcupine‘s The Trouble With You combine the best parts of the late nineties/early two-thousands punk, math rock and indie rock together in a way that would have made fans of all three genres sit up and take notice. The fuzzed-out guitar riffs give way to mathy runs with a melodic bent before muscling through a chorus or two. These guys know their underground music history, or somehow appropriated an entire time period without knowing about it (which would be pretty amazing). As a result (or magically, if the latter is true), their songwriting espouses the ideas of those genres in that time. That means a lot of things, but one really important thing: there are melodies here, but these songs don’t rely on pop melodies as much as current rock/punk/indie bands do.

That makes the album a difficult sell; pretty much every genre of music has been subsumed into the theory that there should be a memorable hook to every song. Not convinced? The Metal Bastard says the words “the by far best grindcore band in history” and “catchy vocal line” in his review of Nasum’s last album. Even grindcore, which many people wouldn’t even call music, is subject to pop these days.

If you’re into punk and rock that’s more about mood, attitude, aesthetics and instrumentals than singalongs, then Porcupine is your band. You’ll love the technical ability of “Picture Perfect,” the punchy rhythms of “So Far So Good,” the herky-jerky guitarwork of “Cliff Diver” and the rest of the great, interesting moments on this album. If you like pop-punk, you should probably move along, or if you’re really determined, check out “Books,” which has the closest thing to a catchy vocal melody on the album.

But if you don’t appreciate that “Books” is awesome because of the tight interplay between the guitar, bass and drums, you’re missing a lot of what Porcupine is about. I hope that Porcupine finds an audience that will embrace this for what it is and not condemn it for what it isn’t (and for that matter, what I don’t think it was trying to be in the first place).

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

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