Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

2013 Singles Jam, v. 1

January 16, 2013

Fusing the rhythms of The Tallest Man on Earth to the full arrangements of modern folk-style indie bands like The King is Dead-era Decemberists, Sukh’s “Kings” is an immediately comfortable and lovable folk gem.

Ra Ra Riot has me dancing like a fool to Prince-style falsetto in my office. Also, the phrase “robot hearts” appears. Yes. Yes, indeed.

Ugly Kids Club has been a bit of a chameleon, exploring mega-fuzzed out pop a la Sleigh Bells in as many ways as they can. “Get It All” gives their crunch a bit of new wave touch and a bit of AFI-style anthemic gloom.

Meridene's confident songwriting produces stellar pop tunes

August 27, 2010

While I fancy myself a person quick with a good word, I have two compliments that are reserved for the highest order of appreciation. The first is that of “intensely reasonable.” This combination of mercy, fairness and kindness shows itself when someone has the ability to royally screw someone over (legally, justifiably, and/or otherwise) and for some reason chooses not to. The second is “he knows what he’s about.” Mental clarity that produces focused action is incredibly impressive to me because of how rare a quality it is. Meridene is a band that knows what it’s about.

And because Meridene knows what they’re about, the songs they write come off with a confident swagger that draws listeners magnetically toward the songs. Meridene’s not-unfamiliar sound falls directly between the four-on-the-floor guitar anthems of Jimmy Eat World and the perky, quirky indie-pop of Ra Ra Riot. Despite not picking a niche genre (chillwave? witch house? we are making this up as we go, apparently), their precise musicianship, inescapable melodies and near-perfect pacing make their sophomore album Something Like Blood into a must-listen set of songs.

Those three elements are most evident in “Parade of Fools,” which is somehow not the first single (If you’re reading, Meridene: this had better be the second one). The song is a stick of dynamite; lit by the first solitary drum hits, the fuse burns closer and closer to an explosion as the band ratchets up the intensity of the song. The jagged but not abrasive guitar work teams up with the galloping drums and consistent bass to push the song forward. The keyboardist, playing two different keyboards at once, reins in the mood. The vocalist, singing in a pleasant tenor that fits well into the sound, spits lines about wives and husbands in denial that each are cheating on the other.

The fuse draws close to the end, and the band drops down to a piano so they can crescendo to the lighting of the fuse. While Meridene doesn’t seem like the band to go nuts and thrash about on stage (at least according to their YouTube videos), the last thirty seconds of “Parade of Fools” give them every right to. The up-until-this-point melodic vocalist loses it, raggedly screaming “And we wouldn’t have it any other way!” in a completely throat-shredding way. I’ve heard hardcore screams that weren’t as adrenaline-spiking. The band, responding appropriately, goes absolutely ballistic for the last thirty seconds. I’ve listened to it probably twenty times, and I still get goosebumps.  It is on my shortlist for song of the year, with Frightened Rabbit’s “Not Miserable,” Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” and The Tallest Man on Earth’s cover of “Graceland.”

Because Meridene is a band that knows what it’s about, it tackles the other eight tunes on Something Like Blood with the same reckless abandon, albeit in different ways. The Death Cab for Cutie shuffle of “Bible Belt” uses lyrical power as its killer element, and it works. “Juliet, They’ll Eat Us Alive” crescendoes from a solitary, pensive guitar and voice elegy to a full-on band and choir blow-out that ends with the vocalist dissolving into distant, undiscernable screaming. Again, the sparing use of the scream turns it into an absolutely mind-blowing effect. The desperation and intensity pent up in the last minute of “Juliet…” are fearsome and beautiful.

Meridene pulls everything they do together with brilliant touches. “A Man of Faith, a Man of Fact” starts out with an a capella performance that morphs into a marching band collision. “Everyone’s Waiting” kicks off the album with a bang and a dance-rock vibe. “Gone, Baby Gone” drops in sleigh bells to the mix and supports that quirk with one of the band’s best group performances. Each member contributes a significant element to the success of the tune, and it feels completely satisfying for that reason.

Meridene’s Something Like Blood reminded me why I like reviewing music. There really are diamonds in the midst of all the rough.  The band’s brilliant pop tunes are confidently written, intricately arranged and passionately performed; in that way, they’re a lot like Jimmy Eat World. There’s no catch to JEW; they’re some average guys writing good songs, over and over. Meridene does that too; they just have three dudes and a girl, as well as having way more variation than Jimmy Eat World. If you’re not all over “Parade of Fools” and “Juliet, They’ll Eat Us Alive” by the time you’re at the end of the album, you can stop reading this website, as our musical tastes just don’t align. Meridene is performing at the very top of the indie-rock heap, and I sincerely hope that this is their breakthrough album. They know what they’re about, and that’s attractive – as well as conducive to great songwriting.

Hear “Gone Baby Gone” here.

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

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