Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Late June MP3s: Acoustic

June 23, 2016

1. “County Line” – Susto. Susto is one of the very best alt-country acts working today, and if you don’t know that you haven’t heard their stuff yet. Let this nigh-on-perfect tune serve as your introduction.

2. “King” –  The Amazing Devil. This incredibly intense song wrings every last drop of emotion out of dramatic vocal performances, a cinematic lyrical set, and a churning full-band acoustic performance. Cello has rarely sounded so incredibly vibrant and necessary in folk-rock. The video that accompanies the tune is equally impassioned; it’s a rare thing that the video enhances the experience of listening to the song, but this one totally does. Highly recommended. Their album comes out Monday, so if you’re in London you should check their release show out. If it’s anything like this video, it promises to be a wild affair.

3. “Window” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Saxophone and French horn are not common inclusions in a woodsy folk tune, but Wolfe makes them sound totally natural. Between them and the bassist going absolutely bonkers (you go!), this sounds almost more like Anathallo than it does Bon Iver, but fans of both will find much to love in this tune.

4. “Dancing in the Dark” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. This song is infinitely coverable: I would listen to almost anyone cover this tune. The fact that Josiah and the Bonnevilles are my favorite new band of the year makes it even more excellent.

5. “Standing” – Melody Federer. This singer-songwriter/indie-pop tune has a melodic maturity that stands up against Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Watkins, and Sleeping at Last. It has gravitas while still remaining light; it’s a very rare balance that is to be celebrated.

6. “Why Don’t You Call Home” – Deni Gauthier. Sometimes all you need is a great falsetto and a tiny guitar riff to steal hearts.

7. “Sunset Road” – Kathryn Overall. Here’s a folk-pop tune about contentment, local beauty, and home played in a low-key, no-frills, earnest way. I broke into a smile, and I think you will too.

8. “Under a Rose” – Dylan Addington. Always space in my heart for a folk-pop tune with a catchy vocal melody and stomping percussion. Fans of The Lumineers should be all up on this.

9. “The Captain” – Adam Topol. Fans of the easygoing acoustic joy of Dispatch and Guster will find a lot of love in Topol’s swaying, airy, summery tune.

10. “Catch Your Fall” – The River South. The iconic shuffle-snare is employed to great effect here, providing the backbone for a delicate love song. The keyboards, bass, and dual vocals fill in the warm, comforting vibe.

11. “White Sky” – Lilla Clara. A solemn, emotionally powerful tune that sucks all the air out of the room.

12. “Between the Bars” – Andrea Silva. Elliott Smith cannot have very much added to him, but reinterpretation keeps a legacy alive. This cover features a great vocal performance, too.

13. “Once Upon a Child” – Eleanor Murray. Tape hiss, nylon strings, room reverb, and an arresting alto vocal line come together for a deeply affecting tune.

14. “Loss” – Paul Sweeney. This contemplative solo guitar piece has a consistent motion in the melodic line that makes the song both evocative and emotional.

15. “Improvisation I” – De Martenn. This solo piano piece explores a dark blue mood; it feels like the street corner late at night, when you know no one is around but it still feels like something is going to happen. It’s peaceful but not serene; there’s some undercurrent going right there under the surface. You look twice; no one is there either time. You’re a little disappointed, but but also relieved. You walk home. You sleep well.

November Acoustic Singles

November 3, 2015

1. “Sometimes It’s a Song” – Rob Williams.  The fresh, round, earnest qualities of Williams’ voice match the subtle sweetness of the surrounding arrangement, resulting in the sort of song that feels real and weighty without being heavy or loud. It makes quite an impact.

2.”Heart of Stone” – The American West. This one captures the easygoing, lilting West Coast country sound in full flower, with the pedal steel more floating than weeping and the guitar more calming than cutting. The vocals and lyrics, however, supply all the heartbreak you could ask for from a country tune.

3. “Lovedrunk Desperados” – Annabelle’s Curse. That opening thumping kickdrum creates a sense of urgency that cuts through the banjo and acoustic guitar songwriting and lends it the hint of grandeur that compels me to keep listening. The rest of the song does not disappoint.

4. “Set on Fire” – Magic Giant. They’re not referencing their meteoric rise, but this rave-folk outfit (seriously, right there with Avicii, in only a slightly different way) is making a big noise in a lot of places. This particularly tune will keep their star right on rising.

5. “Mountains” – Andy Hackbarth. Even though its title says otherwise, this one invokes the beach: chill, Mraz-style acoustic-pop meets reggae in a sunshiny brew.

6. “Molly Put the Kettle On” – Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. It doesn’t get much more authentic-sounding than this rootsy, bluegrassy croon/holler tune featuring harmonica, banjo, and fiddle.

7. “Mother” – Adam Busch. Touches of psychedelia flavor this otherwise unassuming, easygoing, fingerpicked acoustic tune.

8. “Lighthouse” – Phillip LaRue. The subtle alt-pop of Peter Bradley Adams meets the flitting, romantic strings of Sleeping at Last for a romantic, lovely tune.

9. “Cool and Refreshing” – Florist. Sporting another not-quite-yet-self-aware title, this tune delivers fragile, melancholic, beautiful indie-pop that really seems like it should be acoustic. Shades of Lady Lamb, Laura Stevenson, and Kimya Dawson appear, but Florist uses the references as touchstones instead of crutches. Just beautiful.

10. “Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf. This tune has the gravitas to convey history in all its glory and terror–a tune so infused with lyrical weight that a single sigh can speak volumes. Distant trumpets, careful strings, twinkling glockenspiel and gentle baritone make this some sort of cross between Beirut and Kris Orlowski, which is only positive. Metcalf previously was in IC faves The Fox and The Bird, and it seems he hasn’t missed a step since stepping out.

 

 

 

Goodbye 2014: Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders / The Maravines / Lord Buffalo

January 26, 2015

matthewsquires

Matthew Squires and the Learning DisordersWhere the Music Goes to Die.

The vision of indie rock that Neutral Milk Hotel put forward is alive and well in Matthew Squires. Where the Music Goes to Die is a mindbending mix of melodic sophistication, off-kilter arrangements, highly literate and oft-enigmatic lyrics, idiosyncratic vocals, and an uncompromising attitude toward the creation of the work. Heidegger, Plato, and copious Biblical references weave their way through the album, as Squires spins indirect (“When Moses Sighed”) and direct eulogies (“American Trash”) of American society.

The songs that bear the lyrics are at turns jaunty indie-rock tunes [the excellent “Echo,” “Some Corny Love Song (Devotional #1)”], major-key alt-folk (the title track, “Plato’s Cave”), and doomy folk (“When Moses Sighed,” “A Strange Piece”). Squires’ high-pitched voice keeps the whole ship sailing, as he brings the listener through the collection with ease. The ultimate result of the collection is similar to that of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: Where the Music Goes to Die delivers an almost-overwhelming amount of ideas to take in, but all those pieces unfold through repeated enjoyment of the impressively refined melodic surface level. If nothing else, you’ll love singing along to “Echo”–maybe the Heidegger reference will hit later.

distelfink

The MaravinesDistelfink. It’s always a joy to hear a band build and grow from one release to another. The Maravines’ Distelfink follows their self-titled 2013 release by almost exactly 12 months. Their previous offering was a jangly, reverb-heavy indie-pop work; their new one takes those elements and crafts them into a pitch-perfect rainy-day indie-rock album.

From the album art, it’s clear that The Maravines know what they’ve got here: the gray skies and rain over a lush field and a colorful, nostalgic local business sign are a neat analog of the sound. The duo craft elegant, lush tunes that never turn into spectacles: the songwriting, arrangement, and recording are all purposefully tailored to create a consistent sound throughout the record. You can listen to the individual tunes like “Third Floor Statue,” “Maryland,” and “Flowers on Tonnelle” for their standalone beauty, or you can just let the whole album accompany you through (or transport you to) a dreary, relaxing day. That’s the secret weapon of the album: the green fields of the album art. This album ultimately plays not off the stark, forlorn beauty of Bon Iver or Michigan, but the lush beauty of Nightlands, Holy Fiction, and Sleeping at Last. Distelfink is a beautiful, evocative, wonderful album.

castletapes

Lord BuffaloCastle Tapes EP. Lord Buffalo is given to long, gritty, Southwestern, wide-open folk-esque landscapes that burn acoustic guitars into ashes and scatter them to the violent Santa Ana Wind. On the other end of the spectrum, they play terrifying post-rock with spoken/chanted/shouted vocals that sounds like the soundtrack to the apocalypse.

On this short EP, they focus more on their expansive, slow-burn sound than their fully-ramped-up version. A cover of Roky Erickson’s “Two-Headed Dog” sets the pace for the EP: it’s a pensive sort of jam with surreal lyrical imagery and a long wind-up that quits before the seemingly-inevitable explosion. The manipulated violins and ominous spoken word of “Valle De Luna” turn into a more abstract tune that’s a little harder to get into, but it still never gets near Armageddon. The final two tracks are essentially parts one and two of the same long song: the pounding, grumbling, low-grade roar of “Mineral Wells” leads directly into the instrumental “Form of the Sword,” which is a long tension release; it’s the sound of the metaphorical tide going out.

Even though Castle Tapes shows off the “lighter” side of Lord Buffalo, this is still a heavy, serious, thought-provoking release. Lord Buffalo says they’re building up to a full-length in 2015, which I can only expect will have more sweeping, booming, indignant folk/post-rock dispatches for us.

Grab Bag 3: Zach Winters / Naïm Amor

December 17, 2014

monarch

Zach WintersMonarch is a gentle, calming, delicate album of pristine singer/songwriter work reminiscent of Sleeping at Last. Winters’ modus operandi is to develop a single quiet element into a whole array of sounds without ever crossing the threshold into noisy.

The lack of kit drums throughout much of the album helps greatly in building this lush, soothing sound: strings, voice, two guitars, and auxiliary instruments can still sound intimate if there’s no snares and cymbals marshaling them forward. Instead, the sounds and songs here unfold tenderly, one part after another. This is not a pop album; these songs are not built for instant gratification. Monarch sets the mood for an hour, or a day, or a week.

The high points, insofar as can be picked out from the gorgeous whole, are the swells where Winters exercises his arrangement skills: the title track soars as Winters puts everything he has into the six-minute tune; “Deep Deep” shows his “poppiest” vocal melody, which makes the song sound like a lost Josh Garrels tune. “Meant” is a beautiful love song that calls up the closest Sleeping at Last comparisons, while “Tonight” is one of the warmest tracks I’ve heard in a while. Monarch is a romantic wonder in the literary and literal senses of the world: the emphasis on beauty appeals to those eloquent novels and poetry of yore, while lovers of all types will find a sonic analogue to tender affection. Highly recommended.

naimamor

Naïm Amor‘s Hear the Walls is also quiet, but in a different way. Hear the Walls is a stark, enticing album that relies on mystery and intrigue. The album’s allure starts with its lyrics: the songs are sung in both English and French, giving some of these songs the mystique of a foreign tongue. The ones that do appear in English draw on lightly reverbed guitar, distant arrangements, and whispered vocals to create their enticing moods.

Lead single “No Way Back” is one of the most full arrangements, incorporating prominent strings and a second guitar into the mix. The result is a tune something like Joseph Arthur or an acoustic Teitur might make: a mature, full-bodied song that just happen to be quiet. Follow-up track “Cherche Dans la Brume” features Andrew Bird-style whistling into a tune that’s far more tense than the small arrangement should be able to create. There are some lovely moments, such as the beautiful closing instrumental “Learning America”; the overall impression, however, is one of intrigue.

Amor’s offerings here are equally as mood-creating as Zach Winter’s, but in a very different way. The quiet tension throughout the release makes me look always just around the corner, waiting for the next element to emerge. If you’re into serious music a la Andrew Bird, Patrick Watson, or Joseph Arthur, Hear the Walls will provide a treat.

Nov. News: Recover and Grow

November 24, 2014

Athens, GA is a huge music town with a lot of history. This means that there are iconic pieces of architecture that are getting lost, destroyed, or run down. Nuçi’s Space is working to restore a historic steeple in Athens that’s associated with R.E.M. (first show ever was there!), Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and many other Athens bands. They’ve got a pretty huge crowdfunding goal to make this happen, but they also have some incredibly awesome rewards: clothes from Of Montreal, the pylons from Pylon, etc.

Sleeping at Last has started a company called Emphasis that allows bands to make one-of-a-kind t-shirts based off a band’s lyrics. The shirts include designs as well, so it’s not just words on shirts. This is incredibly cool for bands that have very wordy music (The Mountain Goats! Please sign up! Please!) to connect with their fans. So if you’re a fan or a band, jump on this.

Along those lines, Noisetrade has expanded their services to include fan accounts, which makes a lot of things really easy that were somewhat complicated before. I’m pretty excited about that. I love Noisetrade, and I’m glad to see them grow.

And finally, the RunHundred for November! —Stephen Carradini

——

This month’s top 10 list makes three things clear:

#1. Iggy Azalea isn’t going anywhere. The Levi’s model and rap phenomenon shows up in the list below with two different collaborators—Rita Ora and Jennifer Lopez.

#2. Calvin Harris is quickly becoming the face of electronic dance music. He also turns up twice this month—in a pop hit alongside John Newman and a club track with Alesso and Hurts.

#3. 128 beats per minute (BPM) is the Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris of tempos. By that I mean it’s omnipresent. Seven of the ten songs below are within a few beats of this tempo.

In terms of working out, 128 BPM’s dominance in pop music means that–if you can find an exercise routine that approximates this pace–you’ll never be short of new workout music. If you’ve already got fixed a routine, you can swap in any of the songs from that range and see how they fit. If not, you might try walking, kickboxing, or a bootcamp-style workout—all of which are good matches for this speed.

Whatever this month’s top songs lack in tempo variety, they make up for in the genre variety thanks to a woozy remix from Tove Lo, some Australian folk from Vance Joy, and the fervent rock of Walk the Moon. Whether it’s the eclectic mix that draws you in or the four-on-the-floor beats, there’s something here that will invigorate your workout.

Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.

Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York – 117 BPM

Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High) (Hippie Sabotage Remix) – 120 BPM

Vance Joy – Riptide – 104 BPM

Jennifer Lopez & Iggy Azalea – Booty – 129 BPM

Calvin Harris, Alesso & Hurts – Under Control – 126 BPM

Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care (Cole Plante Radio Remix) – 128 BPM

Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance – 128 BPM

Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow (Justin Prime Remix) – 128 BPM

Pitbull & John Ryan – Fireball – 125 BPM

Calvin Harris & John Newman – Blame – 128 BPM

To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn

The Fox and the Bird | Brown and Blue / Novi Split | Arctic Tern

March 4, 2014

darkesthours

It’s always a bit unusual for me when songs that I’ve known only in performance make their way to tape. The Fox and The Bird‘s Darkest Hours is composed of songs that I’ve heard the Dallas-based band perform over the past three years since their impressive 2011 debut Floating Feather. “Saints,” “Valley,” and “No Man’s Land” are tunes that have lived in my memory long before they ever found a home on this album, so it’s a bit like welcoming old friends back into my home than meeting new people. Keep that in mind as I praise the album.

The Fox and the Bird is a real chipper folk-pop outfit musically, but their lyrics have a complicated, melancholy tinge. Darkest Hours makes obvious with the title a strand of thought started in their debut. “The Wreck of the Fallible,” “Valley,” and “Habit” all weave together human frailty, the petty ugliness of our actions, redemption, and hope into complex lyrics that keep me pondering as I hum along. “Valley” is especially contradictory in this regard, as I find myself humming the dramatic line “And it was every bit as bad / as our father said” without feeling particularly bad. “Habit” is about a history of violence, sung in an perky, old-school Decemberists vein.

Amid the tension and feeling, there is at least one track that is just happy. “No Man’s Land” is a song of hope, passion, and western expansion that includes jubilant trumpet and a sweeping set of “oh-whoa-oh”s in the chorus. But other than that, it’s charming melodies and back-porch banjo of “Ashes” supporting a conflicted lyric set about loneliness, and the beautiful vintage country harmonies of “Dallas” elucidating how Dallas is a pretty terrible place. (“Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes / A steel and concrete soul with a warm hearted love disguise.”)

So The Fox and the Bird are not The Lumineers: while both can write folk-pop and country tunes that are melodic, memorable, even masterful, the goals of Darkest Hours are quite different than those of “Ho Hey” or “Classy Girls.” This isn’t to knock either band–it’s to point out that fans of Lumineers’ musical qualities might very well enjoy The Fox and the Bird’s music, but might find the lyrics frustrating or even difficult. Others who are fans of challenging lyrics will find an impressive amount of care and thought put into the lyrics, and they might just dig the extremely strong folk-pop stylings. It’s clear that Darkest Hours was crafted over years instead of months: these tunes shine musically and lyrically. The result is one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

novibrownandblue

I have often sung the praises of Novi Split, so I’m thrilled that David J is moving into an active phase of his production. His most recent release is a split 7″ with fellow Los Angelenos Brown and Blue. Amazingly, the two bands secured Split7Inch.Bandcamp.com to host the thing–although the availability of their seems-like-it-would-already-be-taken website is only one of the impressive things about the split.

Both bands incorporate country influences and focus on gentle vocals; B&B adds a country sway to a quiet indie-rock ballad of sorts in “Honeymoon Suite,” while Novi Split adds pedal steel to the hushed singer/songwriter vibe of “Stupid.” Both bands have a deeply romantic streak running through the lyrics and overall feel, making them great split partners. My only quibble with this is 7 minutes is awfully short for such a great match. Thankfully, both bands are releasing EPs in March–I’ll just play them back to back and call it good. Definitely check out this release.

arctictern

It is extremely hard for me to resist romantic music. I don’t just mean love songs, although I’m hard-pressed to ignore those; I mean romantic in the literary sense, romanticism that idealizes love and loss and feeling as near to the highest manifestations of the human soul. Damien Rice and early 2000s emo have a lot in common, you know?

Arctic Tern
‘s Leaves EP is a passionately romantic album that combines the emotive vocals of David Gray or Josh Garrels with pristine, gentle arrangements of Sleeping at Last and Gregory Alan Isakov. A lilting Irish air to the vocals only makes the sound more appealing. “Light a Fire” is the most polished of the tunes, a full arrangement with good motion, even a quiet urgency, throughout the track. Other tracks show off Arctic Tern’s (one person, naturally: the solitary genius is a beloved romantic-era invention) prowess with just an acoustic guitar: “Love is Not a Game” and “Ties” have stark sections and yet are still smooth. “Love is Not a Game” expands into a tune with swooping cello, melancholy piano, and glockenspiel–it’s an absolutely beautiful piece.

Arctic Tern’s sound falls somewhere between searching and content: the lyrics speak of the anxious space between love and not, but the arrangements are strong and confident. This is music to chill out to, to make out to, to be thoughtful to. It’s music that gets into the spaces of your mind and smooths those jagged edges, even if only for a little while. It’s an EP that caused me to repeat it 8 times in one day. That’s a mighty accomplishment.

Blues, birds and a collaboration

October 24, 2012

The Local Strangers play bluesy, soulful swagger with a sassy, attitude-filled female vocalist. I’m impressed that something this swampy and Southern came out of Seattle.

IC indie-rock faves I Used to Be a Sparrow released an acoustic version of “Life Is Good” off their album Luke. The stripped-down version really plays up the vocal melodies, which are excellent.

I love Sleeping at Last and Jon Foreman, so I was thrilled to hear recently that they are working together on songs.

Movin' and shakin'

September 30, 2011

The latest edition of SLTM the Podcast is sponsored by Independent Clauses. You don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a fan of heavy music, 1800s poetry, or The Parson Red Heads.

Elizaveta initially comes off as Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson follower, but there’s a sharp left hook in the chorus that has me very excited for the future. Don’t worry; you’ll know it. Hers is a career to watch closely. (As for the video? Well, it’s got serious wtf factor.)

Noisetrade’s Fall Sampler includes several artists that IC has featured among its 30-strong ranks: Brianna Gaither, Jenny and Tyler, Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Sleeping At Last, the last of which was covered so early on in Independent Clauses’ history that the review isn’t even on this version of the site. There are also several bands we highly recommend that haven’t been officially covered here at IC: The Middle East, Derek Webb + Sandra McCracken, Ivan & Alyosha, Josh Rouse and Josh Garrels. I’m guessing the other third is full of joy and wonder as well – I’ll be checking it out soon.

If you’re into the whole ’80s nostalgia thing that’s going around, you’re going to be all over Geoffrey O’Connor. His album Vanity is Forever is streaming in full over here. Seriously, it’s 1985 on that webpage.

Beirut’s The Rip Tide is still keeping me company, and now a visual aid has been supplied! Sunset Television made this bizarre yet somehow fitting clip for “Santa Fe,” and while I’m not really sure what’s happening, I enjoy it.

On Joyful Wings releases the best compilation album I've ever heard

May 23, 2010

I am a big fan of compilations. Twenty or more bands to check out at once in a format that plays them end to end while I chill? Yes please. On Joyful Wings‘ compilation We Were Lost, We Were Free is the best compilation I’ve ever heard, bar none. It even trumps Deep Elm‘s enormously influential Too Young to Die; seeing as I discovered my favorite song of all time via that comp (Appleseed Cast‘s “Fishing the Sky”), please know that I’m endowing an immense amount of praise in those words.

The reason it’s the best ever is because out of the 21 bands featured, there’s only two bands whose offerings I didn’t enjoy. Furthermore, I was inspired to go get more music from eight of these bands. Add in the fact that I already own music by three of these bands, and you’ve got an 11/21 conversion rate. That’s enormous for a comp. Mostly I find one or two bands off a comp that I enjoy enough to follow. These guys know what’s up when it comes to tracking a comp.

The bulk of the tracks here are gorgeous, flowing acoustic tunes; there are a couple indie-rock tracks, an indie-pop song and an excellent pop-punk tune by Chasing the Sky, but other than that it’s all acoustic. Holcombe Waller contributes “Risk of Change,” which has brilliant melodies, solid lyrics and a contained energy that makes the song infectious. I’ve listened to it 22 times already. I’ve also listened to “Umbrellas (Acoustic)” by Sleeping at Last 22 times; the track itself is gorgeous in its construction, and this acoustic version translates beautifully.

Carl Hauck‘s “To Coast” was written specifically for this comp, and its optimism through depression sets the tone for the whole album for me. Ikaik offers up a soul-crushing (yet still beautiful) tune that contradicts that last statement, as there’s little hope in the lines, “you can hate me/you have got the right/and when you leave tomorrow/don’t say goodbye/and don’t try to change my mind.”

TW Walsh (ex-Pedro the Lion) contributes a really nice change of pace with a goofy, upbeat tune; Tom Hoekstra reinterprets “Be Thou My Vision” excellently; Josh Woodward goes all Depression-era troubadour tales on us; Fireflies offers a beautiful “fields at dusk”-type piece; and Jeremy Larson leads off the set with an impeccable piece of melodic, cinematic pop.

If a 19/21 success rate and a 11/21 conversion rate aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that you get all that plus contributing five dollars to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation should pique your interest. Great tunes and a charitable feeling in your soul. At this point, your only question should be “why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?” and the reason for that is that I’m a jerk. and I’m busy. But mostly a jerk.

But seriously, get over to their Bandcamp page and download it. You will not regret it if you like acoustic music. It’s an absolutely incredible collection, and I absolutely can’t wait for their next project, which they’re already working on. I promise I’ll tell you about it quicker next time.

Post Harbor brings all the post-rock parts together successfully

January 6, 2010

I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.

Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.

They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.

They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.

Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.

This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.

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

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