1. “Dark” – Birds of Night. Dark is the massively impressive synthesis of Springsteen’s road-readiness, Arcade Fire’s sweeping drama, and The Walkmen’s trebly guitars and keening vocals. This is an impressive rock tune.
2. “Cooler” – Sancho. Why does some Weezer-esque rock push my emotional buttons and others not? I have no idea. But I heard the guitars, the vocals, and the start-stop moment that clinches the thing in this song, and I just got all mushy inside.
3. “Warrior” – SATE. If this jet-fueled, towering-guitar rocker doesn’t get your blood moving, I don’t know what will. There’s enough soul, sass, and vocal theatrics in this track to power four or five lesser tunes.
4. “Legend” – Parlement. If the sound of summer is a big, fat Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff, Parlement has a song for you. The straightforward, stomping rhythms are about as far from that other Parliament as you can be.
5. “I’m Dying on the Square” – Break the Bans. Thrashy, hoarse-throated protest punk from a Russian national that starts out with spoken words clips (that I can only assume are political/news clips)? This is pretty much what punk is for, y’all.
6. “Modern Phenomenon” – Northern American. Big, comforting synths welded to a downtempo rock song that sounds like it’s been through the Radiohead/The National/Bloc Party school of music.
7. “Optimists” – Mittenfields. Glammy, theatrical vocals can make anything sound more glam than it is–Mittenfields is laying down the rock, though. Check that sweet guitar solo.
8. “Mirror North” – Whoop-szo. Starts out all quiet and ponderous, but it ratchets up to a brittle, abrasive post-metal roar pretty quickly. If you’re into soft/loud/soft, jump on it.
9. “Cowboy Guilt” – Torres. The clear winner of SXSW this year, Torres was unknown to me before the event and absolutely everywhere afterwards. This tune, which deftly balances a minor-key gravitas and quirky melodic capriciousness, shows why she’s the big thing in indie-rock right now.
Winter in Alabama consists of 45 degrees and raining. Spring in Alabama consists of 65 degrees and raining. I think it’s understandable that it took far longer than usual for me to break out of my wintry folk cocoon and get back to rocking. But with Minneapolis trio Citroën around, there’s no way to not love rock. The four-song Anachronaut shows off the impressive songwriting skills of this bass-heavy outfit.
Opener “Shifting Sands” harnesses an impressive Queens of the Stone Age-type bass riff to power a wiry, propulsive groove that QOTSA so often misses these days. “Shore” amps up the groove elements of their sound, letting the bass lines drive the song; “Terminal Bliss” strips out almost everything but the bass and some minimal percussion to create an ominous, unforgettable tune. As a bass player, it’s incredibly fun to hear the low end being treated as an equal player in the sound. It gives the tunes a unique vibe that works in their favor: even if no one pointed out that the bass has an unusually important role, you’d be able to tell that something was different in this sound.
Citroën doesn’t view rock as a vehicle for electric guitar antics, but as an expression of three people all working together to create a unified sound. As obvious as that seems, it’s a rare take on the genre that deserves praise. I look forward to what they put out next.
The striking rhythms and herky-jerky guitar work of “Ghost Strokes on the Bell” hooked me on PBD‘s When Everyone Is Getting Wise. The band describes themselves as prog, but it sounds to me like Joan of Arc’s post-punk freakouts, math-rock, and post-Vampire Weekend indie rock. The duo relies heavily on drums as the foundation for the spazzy riffs, but bass guitar also plays a grounding role in keeping the sound from floating away in esoteric guitar noodling.
Male vocals provide the element that brings the whole thing together. They are occasionally melodic and beautiful (“Turn Over Your Hand”), but most often used as a rhythmic instrument that ties the divergent parts together. I like the vocals most of the time: can something that I can’t sing along with be called catchy? Or maybe just “enigmatically mentally repeatable”?
The short length of the songs (All under 4:06, most under 3:00) also helps. The bite-sized tunes still have an incredible amount going on: PBD is more interested in abrupt song shifts than smooth transitions, allowing each second to be content instead of segue. This makes for completely unpredictable song structures; add that to the unpredictable riffs, and you’ve got a unique listening experience. PBD’s When Everyone Is Getting Wise is a fascinating indie-rock album that will be thrilling for adventurous listeners.
Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.
I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among Giants‘ Truth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.
Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.
Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.
They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”
For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.
It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.
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?
The four-song Demo EP from The Liars Club is one of those rare albums where, upon listening, I begin to wonder why this band hasn’t been signed and become outrageously successful yet. Their sound is tight and focused, like they’ve been playing together for way longer than they actually have. Lead and backup vocals are rich and full, and the instrumentals, while not complicated, are quite enjoyable for the listener.
The first track on the EP, “Wide Open Beaver,” is also the strongest. The Liars Club has put together a really great sound, evocative of Queens of the Stone Age. The vocals are particularly impressive–very energetic, with just the right tone.
Unfortunately, the next song fails to maintain the excellent pace that “Wide Open Beaver” set. “Wedgewood Hop” is slower and unfocused–almost rambling, musically. This would pass for a decent song elsewhere, but it pales in comparison to the previous track. “Trust Fund” regains the band’s groove with a melodic, slightly haunting bass lick that stays with you even as the rest of the band layer over it.
The EP closes out with a slower, less energetic, more subdued track. With organ! The organ bit is great. “Born on a Friday” shows nice breadth of skill–it’s a total departure from the rest of the album, with periodic breaks into their typical style. This song is one part chill southern rock, one part upbeat Brit rock, three parts AWESOME.
The only thing I’ve come up with in criticism of this album is to suggest slightly more complicated instrumental tracking, because right now it’s a bit too basic. At same time, I really have no grounds for complaint, because they sound great as they are. The Liars Club has great balance and movement, with layering and background vocals that are excellent.
The Demo EP is a solid album, and I’m predicting it’ll only get better. I can’t wait to see where these guys go.
Do you like rock? Yeah? Well, I’ve got a surprise for you: the Demo EP from The Liars Club is free (the legal sort). You can download it here.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.