A continuation of yesterday’s post, here are the June/July singles that are quiet.
1. “Simplify” – Brendan James. It’s as if Josh Ritter sat down at a piano and started casting off lyrics like he does over a guitar. Beautiful, powerful, engaging stuff.
2. “Crush” – Roy Dahan. Dahan’s Israeli vocal tone and cadence fit gloriously over snappy, precise alt-country, creating a unique, beautiful mix.
3. “I Will Let You Fall” – Walking with Elephants. Clear, crisp Americana, like Mumford but without the howling vocals.
4. “Everything is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers. I posted a Rodgers video of this song yesterday, but this version is different and worth listening to in its own right. Rodgers is a massive talent that I eagerly look forward to hearing more from.
5. “Follow You” – Sam Buckingham. YouTube suggests that I should watch videos by Junip and Noah & The Whale next; Buckingham’s delicate folk-pop kinda fits in there, but it’s way more charming and lilting than those bands.
6. “Strike the Gold” – Kodachrome. Think more of the picture type than the Paul Simon song, and you’ll have a good idea of what this impressionistic synth-pop tune sounds like.
7. “O Love, Let’s Renew Our Vows” – Jonny Rodgers. So, I’m really, really stoked about Rodgers. Really.
8. “One Half” – Julianna Barwick. A female Sigur Ros? A more concrete take on New Age? A transcendent composition? Absolutely stunning? All of the above?
Much post-rock goes for the quiet-loud-quiet or quietest-to-loudest methods. Antarte‘s Olio Su Tela doesn’t often do either, preferring to stay in the quiet-to-quiet method most of the time. It would be easy to slap the label ambient on this and go on, but that’s not exactly what’s happening. This is quiet post-rock; music that plays off the assumptions and structures of rock but applies them to different ends. Ambient builds off electronic ideas, of which there are few to none present. Instead, the Italian outfit wrings emotion out of acoustic instruments (as well as the occasional electric guitar) in unusual ways, resulting in atypical beauty.
The band does have crescendoes and diminuendoes; this isn’t a shapeless, formless mass. But these songs don’t reach for the towering rushes of adrenaline like Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky; closer “Controluce” never gets louder than what would constitute the middle of your average post-rock song before concluding. But that doesn’t change how wonderful it sounds. “Cenere” does have a loud section, but it’s a surprise amidst the smooth, gliding bass and guitar lines that this album is full of. It’s what makes both “Cenere” and Olio Su Tela so memorable: it inverts expectations at every turn. This is a beautiful and surprising collection of tunes, and that doesn’t come along too often.
Every now and then I weary of indie-pop, because it feels like everyone’s just beating a dead horse. But, in 10 years of doing this reviewing thing, someone has always come along to restore my faith in the genre. Tango in the Attic is that band. Their four-song EP Crushed Up takes the pep of Tokyo Police Club and filters it through an offbeat, unusual vision of what indie-rock can be. The result are songs that I can recognize instantly, hum effortlessly, and think about heavily. That’s a pretty good trifecta. The band delivers the goods from opener “Sellotape,” which plays with the stereo feature of my headphones and the joy of seemingly-erratic rhythms, to the extended hazy coda of closer “Crush.”
The Scottish lads’ vision of music is one where artsy collages and poppy melodies share the same space: where chillwave and pop-rock aren’t diametrically opposed, but layered; where inscrutable sections of composition resolve into propulsive, infectious guitar-driven epics. And that’s all in the opener. The incredibly memorable “Easybones” feels like a progressive R&B track before the Tokyo Police Club guitars come bursting in. That section is followed by one that is anchored by marimba. I could go on, but I think you get the point: this is creative, fascinating music that is also good for dancing and singing along with. I highly recommend Crushed Up.
The Boxing Lesson first endeared themselves to me as a trippy, woozy, psychedelic outfit. They have completely morphed out of that on Big Hits!. Instead of handing out mushrooms, they’re mashing with hammers: the riffs throughout this album are absolutely in keeping with the album title. “Eastside Possibilities” throws down the gauntlet, showing that this trio is about the rock this time around: the big, fat, buzzy, hooky riffs are delicious.
This album is less interested in SanFran guitar-rock scuzz and more about stomping, classic-rock-esque riffs. But this is by no means a Jet album or anything: this is a profoundly modern record that happens to have huge guitars dominating it in the best way. “Tape Deck Time Machine” is a charger that gives the drummer a workout; “Better Daze” allow aliens to descend for 39 seconds before powering into a swaggering, chunky riff. The guitarwork on “Red River Blues” sounds like the inverse of the riff from “Better Daze,” and it’s totally awesome. The whole album is full of dark, huge guitars, and it’s just a ton of fun. The notable exceptions: 9-minute opener “Endless Possibilities,” which has a dreamy feel and an orchestra backing it up, and “Breezy,” which is a pop/rock tune that is exactly what the title suggests (especially in contrast to the rest of the “dim streetlights/aliens/danger” vibe). Both are cool additions to the album, instead of being detractors, which is a job well done all around.
If you’re into big, dark guitars; rock moves; and lots of hooky melodies from the instruments and vocals, Big Hits! should be on your to-do list. I really enjoy it, and that’s from a guy who doesn’t cover much rock at all (because I got bored of it). So this one’s a pretty strong recommendation.
I didn’t get as much swag this year, which was disappointing. (I think it probably had to do with the huge buzz that Interactive commanded, which drew some free free free away from the music portion.) However, I do still have some highlights from the stuff I emerged with.
Best Free Album: Separate Tongues by Defining Times. This release blew my mind with its excellent art-rock. The control that the band exercises when deciding between gentle, minimalist composition and towering rock moves was striking. They can do beautiful and powerful with equal success, which is a rare distinction. “Swan Dive” is an impressive earworm of a tune, not relenting its hold on my ears for several days. Fans of Sigur Ros will find much to love in Defining Times.
Best EP: In the Dead of Summer by Desi Roses. Half of Desi and Cody, one of the best bands I saw, continued impressing me with a six-song set of folk/country/Western swing. Desirae Roses’ vocals are impressive in their ability to convey emotion, and the tunes sway with an easy confidence that make me want to press repeat. They’re going on a tour of the west this next two weeks; if you’re out there, you should check them out.
Most Surprising Music: Young Blood Rising by The Del Toros. After seeing an absolutely powerhouse rock performance by this quartet, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that their album finds a neat analogue in Needtobreathe. Both bands can really rock when they want to, but they fill out that skill with pop-rock, acoustic pop, and even some southern rock chops. This creates a varied listening experience that propelled me through the 13-song album. The nearly 7-minute opener “Kick Drum Blues” was especially gripping.
Best Song I Found Buried in a Compilation Album: “Hold Ya” by JKL, on 2012 Indie Music Channel Awards Edition. The joyful sound of it reminded me a great deal of Michael Franti and Spearhead’s “Say Hey (I Love You),” and that’s always a good thing.
Best Flyer I Was Handed:
Their music is pretty awesome too: the opening track of their latest album is a version of the theme from Zelda: Link to the Past‘s Dark World theme. BOSS.
Honorable Mention: O Conqueror‘s slick cardstock flyer got me to their webpage, where their moody, acoustic-led indie rock impressed me.
So I’ve been hammering away at semester’s end, preparing documents, administering papers and writing finals. It has sadly forced me to direct my writing attentions elsewhere as of late. But now I’m back!
Em Eff’s We Don’t Know is a collection of mostly-electronic tunes that span the distance between chiptune, ambient and IDM. The tunes skew toward the minimal side of things, trafficking more in mood and feel than in big beats, infectious melodies or heavy rhythms. This is best shown in the pensive, eerie “Ghosts Are Just T-Shirts Napping on Door Knobs,” which layers measured synths on top of a rattling wooden noise that serves as the “backbeat” for the song. “Hibernating Metropolis” and “okay, blue ether” further explore this vein of intricately constructed, highly structured tunes. Even farther toward the mood-based end of the spectrum is “Blue Ether,” a beautiful piano piece so soft and gentle that you can hear squeaking and rattling of the instrument.There are upbeat tunes as well, like the chiptune-friendly, pulsing “1-Up Down” and the rhythm-heavy “Were We The Machine,” but even these have atmospheric elements throughout. We Don’t Know is an engaging, enveloping release that shows off Em Eff’s strengths as an arranger of atmospheric pieces for great effect. The album is out now on Cloud Collective Records.
Martha Redbone‘s take on things is old. Real, real old. Not only does she mine O Brother, Where Art Thou?-style Americana for the sounds on her latest release, she pulls the lyrics from English poet William Blake (1757-1827). Such an ambitious project as The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake could fall flat, but Redbone sells the whole thing excellently by treating the lyrics reverently but not sacredly. She cares about the sentiments, but she doesn’t let that stop her from putting her own flair and spin on the delivery. This feels less like a reinvention of Blake and more like a celebration of his work from an admirer in a different field.
Tunes like “Hear the Voice of the Bard,” “On Anothers Sorrow” and “I Rose Up at the Dawn of the Day” benefit from the jaunty instrumental rhythms and soulful inflections of Redbone’s alto voice, creating instantly memorable tunes. Redbone is best when sticking in this vein, as experiments in spoken word (“Why Should I Care for the Men of Thames”), Carpenters-esque folk (“The Fly”), and a cappella (“The Ecchoing Green”) are less successful than the joyous, soulful Americana. The highest honors are reserved for the melodious and calming “I Heard an Angel Singing” and “Sleep Sleep Baby Bright,” which are simply gorgeous. If you’re into Americana, you should have this one in your collection.
Metal and post-rock have long been related, as some of metal band Isis’ work sounds remarkably chill and some of Sigur Ros’ stuff is incredibly loud. Red Swingline continues this tradition in Cloud, creating dreamy post-rock and straightforward metal riffs. Erich Dylus, the sole musician behind the project, sets the two genres apart much of the time, as dreamy tunes like “Virtue” and “Spaceman Spiff” never ratchet up to heavy distorted guitar mashing. Instead, he relies on jazzy melodies and chords to do the heavy lifting. “Spaceman Spiff” gets a bit overly jazzy for me, but “Virtue” is quite a beautiful tune. Tunes like “Spiral” focus on his metal inclinations, throwing down some chugging guitar. Title track “Cloud” is the only track that really tries to integrate the two sounds, resulting in the most interesting and unique track of the set. I’d like to hear more of this angle in the future. If you’re interested in metal and post-rock, Red Swingline is one to keep your eye on.
The moment from Again, for the Win‘s We’ve Been Here Forever which imprints itself on my mind occurs in the opener “Merkabah,” when lead singer Carter Francis first hollers, “We came on chariots!” above the crescendoing roar of thumping toms and accelerating guitars. The chorus comes pounding in directly afterwards, the physical presence of the incantation Francis has just let loose.
It’s a good microcosm of the album, as the music falls into that nearly visceral space where “heavy” is shared by post-rock, radio-rock and art-rock. It seems that Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, and Sigur Ros probably get equal play in the band van: the satisfying crash of “Merkabah” gives in to the poppy “The Legend Of”; later, “Your Heaviest Light” apes the skyscraping guitars of post-rock for some beautiful moments.
But no matter which genre the band is conforming their work to, the sense of raw, untamed grit remains. Even when you can sing along to the chorus, there’s a feel that these songs have weight, shape and power. To call it art would give it the wrong connotation: this is meaningful music, and it just so happens that you’ll have the melodies stuck in your head later too. That’s a sound I can get behind.
I’m showing up late to The Naked and the Famous’ album Passive Me Aggressive You because I agreed with the naysayers who thought “Young Blood” sounded like second-rate Passion Pit. But since I ran across the much more subtle and interesting “Girls Like You” and “Punching In,” I’ve been hooked on the band’s sound. I even like “Young Blood” more, because I know that it’s backed up with nuance, as opposed to cash-in, rip-off glee. Official apology complete.
Bands that can pull off glee and nuance with equal passion are of deep interest to me, which is why TNATF and I Used to Be a Sparrow both have been piquing my interest recently. The duo named I Used to Be a Sparrow hails from Sweden, composed of IC fave Andrea Caccese (Songs for the Sleepwalkers) and Dick Pettersson. Caccese brings thoughtful post-rock/dream-pop influences from his previous work to their debut Luke, while Pettersson contributes an upbeat indie-rock aesthetic reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit. The result is an optimistic, energetic, beautiful album with plenty of room to grow.
The album has a lot of musical touchpoints: the churning post-rock of Sigur Ros has some pull on the sound, while the heavily rhythmic beauty of their lead singer Jonsi’s work figures in (“Lovers on the Moon”). The optimistic mysticism of ’80s U2 (optimysticism?) influences some of the guitar work (“Cambodia,” especially), while the passionate charge of Scott Hutchison’s Frightened Rabbit is unavoidable to mention (“Cambodia,” again). Their more anthemic turns call up Kings of Leon and U2 again.
So is this a derivative mess? No, not at all. The touchstones never devolve into aping another’s sound, because the dream-pop, post-rock and indie-rock ideas are all pulling on each other at the same time. The best example of this is the title track: “Luke” starts off with a wall of squalling guitars and feedback before fading the noise into a dreamy, patterned electronic rhythm and four-part vocal chorus. The background drops out, leaving just the transcendent vocals. It’s an odd tune, but an endearing one, because the vocals are just so good. The song ends, seguing into “Give It Up,” which is an acoustic track of sorts.
The best of the tunes here are idiosyncratic like “Luke.” “Smoke” starts off with a chiming mellophone, introduces some interesting rhythmic patterns, and then augments the construction with a stomping, four-on-the-floor drumbeat. “Lovers on the Moon” builds from an acoustic guitar and distant “ooo” into a unique tune complete with shakers, toms, and screaming guitar. “Give It Up” builds an acoustic track out into a darker mood, again with fitting drumming and evocative guitar.
When I Used to Be a Sparrow pushes the “anthemic” button too often, though, things start to get less easily discernable from each other. “Copenhagen” and “Life is Good” sound a lot like each other; “Hawaii” is not that far off. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re repetitive. (Of the three, “Life is Good” sounds like the original, and the other two the copies.) “Moby Dick,” one of the more memorable vocal melodies on the album, owes a debt to the Passion Pit/The Naked and the Famous school. (Which, I suppose, is a good or bad thing, depending.)
Caccese is starting a habit of doing one-off projects, but I hope this is one that he sticks with. The things that he and Pettersson bring to the table make for a unique blend of nuance, passion and enthusiasm. With some more songwriting under their collective belt, I Used to Be a Sparrow could be something really great. Tunes like “Luke” and “Lovers on the Moon” already prove that their vision is an interesting and unique one. Here’s to hoping they refine and mature it, because I would love to hear more of this.
Canyons of Static‘s post-rock is the type that builds from a single element to jubilant roar and thrash, like the best moments of Sigur Ros. The big moment is often a pedal stomp that overdrives the guitar into the stratosphere. I wish I knew the name of it, as it’s an iconic sound: Final Days Society and others use it to great effect.
The “heavens just opened up” pedal is a powerful songwriting move, especially when paired with wailing drums and thumping bass. The beautiful “Wake,” which juxtaposes a monster wall of sound against delicate keys, is the perfect example of their oeuvre. If their show is anything like the towering epics of Farewell Shadows, CoS is absolutely overwhelming live.
The five tunes create an energetic, passionate atmosphere for almost all 34 minutes. This is a double-edged sword; while the release is consistent, it doesn’t show the variety of CoS’s songwriting ability. In future releases, I hope to see them diversify their songwriting moods and structures.
Canyons of Static’s well-established sound is foregrounded in Farewell Shadows. The band has chemistry, instrumental chops and experience (first release: 2006); now they need to grow in diversity. If you’re into Sigur Ros, Moonlit Sailor, Unwed Sailor or Dorena, you’ll be a big fan of Canyons of Static.
Here in Auburn, Ala., winter is a color and not a weather pattern. The 40-60 degree temperatures are not much colder than “fall” or “spring,” but the sky turns (and apparently stays) various shades of gray. From ivory to gunmetal, it’s all washed out, all the time. This, however, is the perfect situation to hear Songs for the Sleepwalkers‘ Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions.
I’m willing to bet it’s gray a lot of the time in Lake Mälaren, Sweden, where bandleader Andrea Caccese and his cohorts probably see a lot more snow than Auburn does to create the color. The de-centered, dreamy feeling that comes from not seeing the natural color of the sky is at least an analogue and perhaps a motivator to these delicate, unusual tunes.
Fellow cold-weather dreamers Sigur Ros provide a fine starting point for discussion of Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions. Beauty-minded arrangments, atypical song structures and uniquely transcendent moods are shared goals between them; while the tunes of Sigur Ros can ratchet up to an impressive roar from their starting point, the songs of SFTS often dissipate into a wispy haze. To that end, it’s probably more fair to call SFTS post-pop than post-rock; it does not appear that the members aspire to rock in any way, although people who are fond of post-rock will be quite understanding of what the band is trying to do. “Down the Line” is built off a gently strummed acoustic guitar, a shaker egg and strings; it measures its own weight by fading in and out through the song, then abruptly ending. It’s not constructed in any specifically defined way; it meanders about at its own pace, keeping its own counsel.
But where the gray winter provides a downward slope into disappointment, the songs of SFTS have a levity about them that precludes a doleful interpretation. Keeping the listener off-balance with the unique song structures is their first tactic, while creating carefully arranged moods is the second: note the use of barely-distorted electric guitar on “We Are Still Here” and the depth of field in the arrangement of standout “Tell Me How.” In an era where post-rock is defined by the dichotomies of loud/soft, fast/slow, and heavy/delicate, it’s refreshing to hear a take that blissfully ignores all pretense of what “should” be done. The wordless, cascading “Asleep” is the best example of this, and putting an acoustic guitar and voice track (“What If I Do”) at the end is certainly another tally mark under that category.
Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions does feel spontaneous, but not in the hyperactive sense of my connotation. These are tunes that feel like the audio equivalent of drawing directly from subconscious: raw, but not in a calculated way; honest, but not in a truly focused way. The meandering aspect (Caccese describes it as “like a drunk man staggering over here and there”) is the element that most surprises and delights. Here’s to hoping Songs for The Sleepwalkers’ work never sobers up, and we hear more beautiful tunes like these in the future.
I don’t often sit back and chill, as I usually relax by reading or writing poetry. But the dreamy simplicity of Acres by Rat Wakes Red makes just being a very pleasant experience indeed.
RWR creates intimate, melodic tunes reminiscent of old-school Iron and Wine. Songwriter James Raftery plays more piano than Sam Beam did, and his sketches tend more toward ghostly melancholy than the bearded wonder’s. Raftery’s voice has soothing reverb on it, giving the tunes an even more ethereal air. Gentle synths and strings make appearances, capping off the tunes.
Raftery’s tightly-defined production leads to the make-or-break point of Acres: the eighteen songs tend to run together when listened to in one sitting. Barely a song steps outside the guitar/piano/vocals/auxiliary instrument oeuvre he sets up.
As a result, the overall effect is not song-driven; the album is best experienced as an un-dissected document. In an ADHD era, this is a liability in attempts to gain casual listeners; there is no single here. But for those who love the experience of setting an album on and blissing out to the mood it creates, this is a treasure trove. Fans of Other Lives, Elliott Smith, Sigur Ros and Joshua Radin will find much to love in Rat Wakes Red’s Acres.
Industries of the Blind‘s “Chapter 1: Had we known better” is just over thirty minutes of heavily orchestrated post-rock. It’s split into three parts: 13 minutes, 5 minutes, and 13 minutes. It’s important to note that, because if you didn’t pay close attention, you’d feel that it’s all one piece. Seeing as they did in fact title it “Chapter 1,” I don’t think it’s too out of place to consider it all one piece.
“I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” is the final track and the second of the 13-minute pieces. It follows a predictable but desirable post-rock formula: start with forlorn guitar, bring in the strings, slow build from there to crashing finale. If post-rock were a country, Industries of the Blind would be making their way through Sigur Ros, with Explosions in the Sky coming up over the horizon.
There are no vocals, and that, along with the fact that the 30+ minutes are only divided into three (or one, as I previously noted), it’s hard to pick out parts of this to admire or criticize that would really mean anything to you. But it is helpful to note that the composers were on to something with the title of “I Just Wanted To Make You Something Beautiful” : the half hour is absolutely gorgeous.
Put it on repeat and you’ll fall asleep (and have beautiful, Michel Gondry-ian dreams, I bet). Put it in on in your car and you’re suddenly in a Wes Anderson movie. Put it on during a party and you’re in the weird slo-mo part of a Charlie Kaufman film. I have no idea what would happen if you made out with this in the background, but I would sure like to find out. This is the type of music that dramatic things happen to. It’s really good.
If you like post-rock, you should check out Industries of the Blind. It’s not going to blow your mind like Isis or The Non, but it’s not going to require as much effort on your part either. It is music to be heard and loved. Get it here for “essentially free,” as they note in their website. They only ask that you share it and/or donate if you love it. And you should very much do both.