Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Clearly Distorted Well

March 9, 2009

The Sess Agendumb

“Distortion” is the name of the game that is played by San Diego rockers The Sess with their album Agendumb.

It would seem that The Sess believe not only in turning the volume up to eleven, but also the gain. Everything, right down to the vocals, has a distinct crunch that immediately makes the band’s recorded sound grab your attention. The catchy riffs and lyrics only add to the feeling.

Initially, I was concerned. Agendumb opens with a sort of ambient intro that has a slight drum beat to it accompanied by odd sounds and recordings of various political propaganda such as Hitler speeches and the like. The intro, “Abraxas,” is very deceptive, making the album appear like it’s going to be one of those weird psychedelic opuses that you have to be on mushrooms to really understand. Then “Sheep City” comes in with some good, solid rock that’s very easy to get into.

And then the use of distortion on the vocals concerned me. When “Sheep City” ended and “Silly For Sirius” begins, the distorted vocals continued and I was very afraid the songs would all start to sound the same. Fortunately, this proved not to be the case, because The Sess manage to give most of the songs very distinct sounds and the distorted vocals quickly start to feel like an organic part of the music.

The album itself is very brief at only about thirty-two minutes. The first half goes by especially fast, but it’s the second half of the album where the band really shines. “Mary” reels you in quickly and their cover of The Remains’ “Don’t Look Back” is so full of soul that you can’t help but have a ton of fun listening to it.

The instrumental work really shines on “Wisdom Tooth Gumbs,” and the vocals are pulled back a little, really letting all the instruments shine. The Sess favor two guitars, bass, drums and some very tastefully done synthesizer. A lot of times when a band puts keyboards into the mix, the rest of the music is overpowered, but The Sess succeed here with the keyboards playing a strong supporting role and occasionally coming out to propel things along themselves. The keyboard work on the album closer, “Tunnel Love,” is especially well done.

I could have done without the intro track and the hidden outro track, since they don’t really seem to mesh with the band’s overall sound. But nitpicking aside, Agendumb is an excellent release and I look forward to seeing more from The Sess.

How did you get indie-pop in my math rock?

February 20, 2009

Math rock is one of those genres that is usually influenced by others.  Right now, a lot of math-rock bands have been pulling influences from post-hardcore and post-rock, and sometimes math-rock  can be indistinguishable from these genres. Well, the San Diego-based trio Fever Sleeves are here to add a little pip in the step of one of the genres that can oftentimes feel way too serious and complex to the average listener. Soft Pipes, Play On is a misleading title for one heck of a ripping album.

The instrumentals seep in, post-rock style, on the opener “Vampyroteuthis,” and suggest something that has been done before. But that lasts for all of 54 seconds or so, until the instrumentals rip open like a wildfire. The vocalist of the Fever Sleeves then comes in and it’s not that post-hardcore style that so often works in math rock, it’s an infectious indie-pop one. That’s the trick to a l0t of the Fever Sleeves songs: they work in the medium of indie-pop.

This may be one of the more accessible math-rock albums I’ve ever heard. It never drags. All of the songs average at about 3 mintues each, which is shocking compared to the usual instrumental freakouts that last upward of five minutes.   The track “Cusack”  comes as such a suprise with instrumentals that play off of very melodic vocals, and vice versa. The song could easily be a pop-fest, but the Fever Sleeve’s instrumentals take it to complex and full musical territories that indie-pop bands simply couldn’t pull off. A thrilling, refreshing listen, Soft Pipes, Play On shows that Fever Sleeves seems to be doing something that may have seemed too incredibly obvious to other bands, and doing it with fervor.

The Powerchords – …Think I'm Gonna

February 10, 2009

My immediate reaction the first time I listened to …Think I’m Gonna by The Powerchords was that I wasn’t very sure I liked it. Before I listened to it a second time, I expressed that sentiment to my friend and editor, Stephen.

Stephen: My apologies. I recant my previous statements and submit a new one – this album is actually pretty awesome.

Hailing from Chula Vista, CA, The Powerchords are on Single Screen Records – a label I have done several reviews for and have been very pleased with. But considering the releases by Visions of a Dying World and The Red Feathers that I had reviewed before lay in the folk-rock arena, I wasn’t really prepared for The Powerchords’ brand of pop-punk, which is probably the reason I was initially turned off by their sound.

But then I gave the album a couple more listens and found that the short-and-sweet, punk rock style was right up my alley. Guitarists Jon Hammer and Seo Parra seem to have a lot of fun with producing the shrilling, catchy riffs and driving crunch of the power chords that drive the band (hence, the band’s name is appropriate). Bassist Craig Barclift is often pounding away with Parra and Hammer on the riffs and the chords. Combined with the catchy lyrics and the high-pitched vocal stylings of Hammer, the band comes off as carrying the torch first lit by The Buzzcocks.

Unfortunately, due to the brevity of the songs and the lack of variation in the formula, it’s hard for many of the songs on the album to stand apart from one another. When listening to it as a whole, it might feel like several of the songs just bleed into one another.

That said, some of the tracks such as “She’s A Virgin” or “Bad Guys” stand out for the sheer catchiness of the lyrics. And to this Wayne’s World fan, “Tia Carrere” was enough to put a nerdy grin on my face.

My recommendation is that if you like old school punk in the vein of The Buzzcocks or The Ramones, you really can’t go wrong with The Powerchords.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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