Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hit: Ships Have Sailed

July 9, 2014

shipshavesailed

Ships Have Sailed tries to accomplish a lot with its Someday EP: pop-rock, alt-rock, and acoustic pop. Of those three, the pop-rock is admirable, and the acoustic pop is solid.

Opener “Midnight” is a slick, hooky, irresistible pop-rock track reminiscent of The All-American Rejects (whom I love), while “Bring You Down” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in any genre all year. The latter benefits from a “give ’em what they want” arrangement: it sets you up to want certain moments, then delivers in spades. Can’t ask much more from a song, really. These two tracks are worth checking the EP out on their own: they show a pop songwriting skill that I hope to hear more of.

The two acoustic pop tracks are nice as well; the male tenor vocals handle the change of pace nicely, and the songs are worthy changes of pace. Closer and title track “Someday” brings the two genres together: it starts off as an acoustic pop tune reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional before bursting into a pop-rock song reminiscent of Angels and Airwaves (although with a lower-pitched vocalist). It’s a fun tune that wraps up a fun EP. I’m really intrigued by the songs that Ships Have Sailed has put out there on the Someday EP; three of them are really polished, tight, and memorable. I look forward to hearing more!

The Top Twenty Quest: The Mountain Goats

October 15, 2010

It’s fitting that The Mountain Goats‘ latest album, The Life of the World to Come, features songs exclusively titled after Bible references. (“Genesis 3:23,” “1 John 4:16,” “Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace,” etc.) The inspired fervor with which I adhere to these music makers notches one step below religious.

I have now seen John Darnielle and co. three times, each time alone. This is because I have found five people who even like the band, much less love them. This is not for lack of trying; I have tried to get almost every one of my friends to listen to them. Their responses, even when listening to the most accessible of tracks,  range from kind ambivalence to undisguised disgust.

It is somewhat disheartening, to say the least. Not that I can hold it against anyone; Darnielle’s voice is unusual, there are catchier songs in the world, and the lyrics are erudite. The band will never be confused for an All-American Rejects knock-off. The songs take some work to get used to, and that’s just not what most people look for in music. It doesn’t even have the residual side effect of rocking that hard, which excludes fans of stately rock like The National plays.

It’s a tough sell.

That’s where the semi-religious fervor comes in, for those who invest in the Mountain Goats see returns in spades. With 500+ songs (no, really), Mr. Darnielle is one of the most prolific songwriters I’ve ever heard of. Even though many of them are little stories as opposed to confessionals (which only appeared later in his so-far 20 years of recording), a full and developed psyche is on display in musical form. It’s not always the kindest, cleanest, most organized or loveliest persona that emerges, but it’s pretty thorough.

That connection to the lyrics ties people to the Mountain Goats once they’re in. Knowing the Mountain Goats’ discography is the closest I can ever get to knowing someone I don’t actually know. But it’s not just any person I don’t know: he’s a passionate, flawed, wild, interesting, intelligent, crafty individual. John Darnielle seems like a dude who you’d want to know.

That’s expressly why I’ve avoided meeting him. I’m sure he’s different in person than he is in his songs, and that would be disappointing at this point. So I’ll keep to his songs.

So I go up to his shows alone, because that’s the closest I’ll ever be to the persona that his songs create. It’s like having coffee with an old friend that you know has changed. You’re going to tell the same old stories, and it’s gonna be awesome, as long as you just skirt the surface of what’s happening now.

The ACM@UCO Performance Lab, where the Mountain Goats played recently, is pretty tight. It provided a lot of space for people to spread out and gave the Mountain Goats a pretty big stage. (I’m used to seeing them at Opolis, so anything more than matchbox-size is big in my mind.)  The Goats did not disappoint, throwing down a set composed of mostly old tunes, with only a few new ones interspersed.

While every MG set is great because I love them so much, this one was marked by two sad circumstances: Darnielle broke the piano’s sustain pedal in the first song, and he didn’t feel 100 percent health-wise. This turned some songs into alternate versions (“Dance Music” was played at about half-speed without the piano leading, which made it explicitly not dance music, which was very confusing). “No Children,” which hangs on the jaunty piano line, was a little subdued, but it is what it is. Some days don’t go your way.

Honestly, it didn’t really matter what was played. I wasn’t specifically there to hear anything (although “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” and the ultra-obscure “Waving at You” were pretty amazing, as I’d never heard either live). I was going because I get the songs. I haven’t heard all of them, but I relate to the passion and sentiments behind 75% of MG music (excluding songs about the alpha couple, as I’m not an alcoholic). And it’s hard to find anyone that you relate to 75% of the time.

Even if it’s a slightly unreal persona constructed of songs, I’ll take that. And I’ll keep going to Mountain Goats shows.

photos/Stephen Carradini, Oct. 26, 2006. Opolis, Norman, OK.

The Bright Light Motion plays competent pop/rock that doesn't break the mold

March 10, 2010

I love pop music. I proudly claim the All-American Rejects as fellow Oklahomans, I get down to We the Kings and Boys Like Girls, Snow Patrol are my boys, Gavin Degraw is the man, etc. etc. But it’s really, really hard to do well. That’s why bands appear for one good song, then disappear (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Anyone? Eh?). You have to be a genius songwriter or have an outside angle to hook people if you’re going to be in the pop/rock genre.

The Bright Light Motion is a band of good musicians. They write competent tunes that would fit in well on radio. But they don’t have an outside hook (Snow Patrol’s accent, peculiar instruments a la Cake or Yellowcard, theatrical songwriting twists a la Panic! at the Disco, dance beats a la everyone on the radio right now) to set them apart. Their four-song EP For All the Right Reasons passes pleasantly but not impactfully. The best moment comes in the end of “Wither,” where they drop out the guitars and bring in the choir of chanting hipsters, which segues into a neat whoa-o section with a cool synthesizer. They’re tried and true pop tricks, and BLM uses them to good effect. If it ain’t broke…

“Oceans Away” is a mid-tempo headbobber that shows off the vocals but doesn’t push any boundaries. “Love Wakes the Dead” starts off with a nice little riff and a vaguely danceable drum beat, but it crashes back into chord-mashing mode for the chorus and kills whatever momentum the band had built up creatively.  The song serves as a sign that The Bright Light Motion has some songwriting chops waiting to be released; they just didn’t get into this EP.

There is not a thing wrong with The Bright Light Motion. The vocals are good, the recording is tight, the songs have melodies to hum, and there’s more than enough charm to go around. But it just doesn’t add up to anything out of the ordinary. And that’s the hardest curse to break.

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.

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