If Quentin Tarantino brewed his morning coffee while playing Last Transmission From Sector 7, I would not be surprised. The 12-track album from Houston native Arc Rev One blends psychedelic, experimental, lo-fi, and alternative electronic into a record that sounds like an acid trip in the Wild West.
To get an idea of opener “Silent Rage,” just imagine RHCP’s “Suck My Kiss” video. The track’s gritty defiance and anarchy-in-the-desert feel are complimented by muffled, southern-accented vocals. Bluesy tones reveal hot Houston influence on one of the more alternative electronic tracks on the album.
“Stage 3 Exp” and “Great Galactic Central Sun” also have alternative distinctions, but with a flair for the psychedelic. “Stage 3 Exp” melts right into the rock elements of “Great Galactic Central Sun,” whose atmospheric guitar riffs confirm this record has a vintage instrumental appeal to it, despite varying electronic soundscapes.
“DON’T TRIP (nothing is real)” is a perfect example of those soundscapes – it begins with laser beams zapping their way into syncopated dance beats. Then, bits of carnival ride synth drop in unexpectedly to prove that, were there ever a song that could deliver a sonic hallucinogen, this would be it. It dips and weaves into so many different energies that “chaotically colorful” is an understatement.
For balance, ambient tracks like “Drift,” “Event of the Orbit,” “Orbit of the Event,” and “Dissolve” give the record a lonesome quality. Despite the name, “Drift” has a stranded-in-the-desert vibe – there’s no beachy groove here. It seems lost in time through repetitive, somber guitar riffs and vocals that are mirages on the horizon, so light you’re not sure they’re present. On “Event of the Orbit,” piano offers a beautiful, classical side to the rather glitch-filled album; throughout its seven-minute duration, “Dissolve” hypnotizes you at each utterance of its repeated phrase (“You can dissolve”).
“Ecstatic Data” most intrigued me, though. It has chiptune elements that take you on a synthesized space odyssey and legitimately sound like R2D2 having a conversation with himself. It’s awesome.
Through its psychedelic compounds, galaxy-like glitch, and lo-fi electronic coated with a good ‘ole smokey grime to it, Last Transmission From Sector 7 puts a whole new meaning to Cowboys vs. Aliens. If rustic and trippy all at once is a category, Arc Rev One has nailed it. —Rachel Haney
It’s important to remember that indie-rockers in the ’80s never called themselves indie-rock; the vast majority assumed themselves as part of the punk tradition. We’ve backfilled the term indie-rock on those bands that were playing their music independently. (I am as guilty of this as anyone.) But it’s no surprise that ’80s rock from the independent scene has a vastly different vibe than indie-rock as we know it now: they saw themselves in a line of rejects with no expectations placed upon them, while much post-Pavement indie-rock self-consciously views itself as part of the pop tradition. That latter trait isn’t always a bad thing, but it does curtail a certain amount of experimentation and idiosyncrasy.
Glimmermen claim to be playing Urban Post-Rock Blues (?), but I think what they’re trying to say is “we do what we want.” And with the removal of the restrictor plates, the Dublin trio is able to open the throttle wide for their four-song Satellite People EP. Their sound is tough to pin down in words, so I can’t blame them for picking an esoteric set of them to try some self explanation: the title track combines a rigid rhythm with a laissez-faire guitar tone and rambling spoken word vocals, while “I’ll Be” brings an ominous edge to the sound with some angular (but not harsh) guitar. Sounds normal until the big reveal: both of these songs have a shaker as the distinctive rhythmic element. “I’ll Be” has a harmonica. “Satellite People” sounds like bizarro Red Hot Chili Peppers or something, what with the “monkeys on the moon” reference. This is abnormal music.
Abnormal, but in the best way. The tunes have a rare pull that comes from not being able to easily classify their work. With few easy mentions other than, “that good old indie ethos, back when it was the punk rock ethos but not really anymore,” Glimmermen command attention. They reward the attention, too; this is genuinely fun stuff to listen to, partially because of its challenge and partially because they’re not afraid to yell “yeehaw!” in the middle of a song because they feel like it. Rock on, Glimmermen.
Restorations‘ self-titled album was one of my favorites of the year in 2011, and their A/B 7″ is impressive enough to be in the conversation for 2012, even though it’s a scant two songs. The tunes, appropriately named “A” and “B,” have all of the passion and power of their self-titled release while adding more creative songwriting tricks. This rock band doesn’t v/c/v; they swoop in and out with guitars, throw down raging sections of gruff sing-a-long, knock it down to build it back up, and more in the 10:17 that Restorations throws at you.
And it is hurled across the table at you; there’s a headlong fervor in these songs that comes from the fact that they’re really good at writing songs and playing their instruments. It sounds like they’ve not only done their homework, but they’ve been the homework. You can almost hear them building off old songs from their old bands, taking sudden corners that they wouldn’t have taken before, going over there when the established move is staying over here in this area. This is music that doesn’t feel like packaged, self-aware pop songs. These songs feel like an unstoppable overflow. A/B doesn’t seem calculated, it seems inevitable. How could you not want in on something that gripping?
The members of Built by Animals are either oblivious or completely subversive. The songs on this self-titled EP and the accompanying art absorb or pilfer everything possible from other bands and re-appropriate. The end product of a less talented band would simply be annoying and derivative. But the Brooklyn-based members of Built by Animals are talented, and the four songs shine all the more because of their total hipsterdom or hipster mockery (and I’m leaning toward believing it’s the latter).
Built By Animals’ guitar-based indie-rock is a mix of Phoenix’s herky-jerky melodies and the hyperactive guitar strum of non-First Impressions of Earth Strokes. They aren’t trying to do anything new; they just do it well. The bridge in “Teenage Rampage” has the type of melody and counterpoint that the rest of the song has lead me to want. When they finally drop in the riff, it feels right and satisfying. That’s solid songwriting.
The band is composed of talented musicians, as well as talented songwriters. Bassist Nick Crane shows off his impressive chops with speedy runs in a particularly bouncy section of opener “Return to the Power Kingdom.” The mathy-yet-melodic counterpoint that guitarist Morgan von Ancken intertwines makes “Return to the Power Kingdom” one of the best tracks here. Crane also flexes his melodic muscle in the bass solo (!) in “Ducks.”
The band shows they know how to build tension with the aforementioned “Ducks,” and they show they can make a subdued tune with the Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque “Spreadsheets.” The dry vocal delivery deserves praise on “Spreadsheets,” as it sticks out in a pleasing way.
It’s hard to pick out specific reasons for why I like Built by Animals’ self-titled EP so much. They’re not doing anything even remotely groundbreaking, but they knock the songs out of the park. Their tunes are energetic, melodic and smile-inducing without being saccharine or pandering; it’s hard to knock a band that can pull that off. I eagerly anticipate what Built by Animals will do next; they’ve established a solid foundation and can go in many directions. Onward and upward! For fans of Phoenix, Strokes, The Cribs, Bishop Allen, and other New York guitar-rock bands.
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).
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.