Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Al Scorch: Ragged, rowdy, frantic, immediate

August 14, 2016

alscorch

Al Scorch‘s Circle Round the Signs combines country-rave-up fervor, frantic banjo playing, and an assured sense of melody that creates one of the most immediate, electric offerings I’ve heard all year.

Opener “Pennsylvania Turnpike” is a madcap 2:21 that feels even shorter than that, as Scorch blazes his way through the tune with barely-contained abandon. If you miss the ragged, rowdy first four Avett Brothers records, you’ll have found a new best friend by the time that “Everybody Out” makes it to your ears: Scorch’s unhinged voice manages to make klezmer music even more vital than it already intrinsically is. (Potentially because this klezmer outfit contains a bone-rattling banjo.) If you’re not convinced, the wild, staccato, who-cares-about-time-signatures center of “Want One” could not be closer to a lost Mignonette song–in the best way possible. It pains me a little to think how many banjo strings Scorch goes through. (But only a little–never change.)

Scorch does have a balladeer hiding inside himself: “Lonesome Low” is a swaying singalong with female vocals and an unforgettable vocal melody, while “City Lullaby” is exactly what it sounds like. And these songs are definitely great, but it’s the rocket-speed approach to songwriting that is the real treasure here. After the ballads, we get “Slipknot” (an old-time band on uppers) and closer “Love After Death” (an album highlight that combines his frantic approach with a real sense of loss over friends that have died). Scorch can slow down, but he’s at his best when he’s blazing. If you’re into any sort of acoustic music, this is a must-hear. Highly recommended.

B. Snipes establishes himself as a talent to watch

May 29, 2015

bsnipes

I review a lot of really good folk music here at Independent Clauses, but every now and then someone comes along who sits head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. B. Snipes is that rare breed, and the 5-song Away, Away is his calling card. From compelling lyrics to evocative melodies to clear-eyed production, there’s nothing on Away, Away that is out of place.

Some people try to establish a sound in an EP; others try to showcase their breadth. Snipes manages to do both here: while establishing himself as a storytelling troubadour through his lyrics and nuanced vocal delivery, he sets a surprising array of sounds around him in the arrangements. It’s a remarkable balancing act that establishes him as a high-talent artist to watch.

The cleverest trick Snipes pulls to accomplish this balance is to vary what you might expect in a track listing. Instead of starting with his loudest track and getting quieter, Snipes starts out with the intimate, stark, beautiful “Death Came Knocking.” The first half of the track features just a Snipes’ gravitas-laden voice, a bright acoustic guitar, and an upright piano to lend some bass to the proceedings; even when he adds in a banjo to fill out the sound, it still feels like you’re hanging out in Snipes’ living room. The tune itself tells of Death showing the narrator around town, talking about both the narrator and death’s lives. The chorus yearns for a beloved maternal memory–it’s uncertain whether the narrator or death sings the chorus. It’s this sort of subtle touch that gives Snipes’ work the depth that endears it to me.

Elsewhere Snipes shows off his arranging skills, including an open snare on the kit and wailing organ in the dramatic folk tune “Michael.” “Clark Gable Blues” has a 3/4 meter, giving the tune a plaintive, mournful, country waltz/blues feel. The lyrics of lost love and a swooning violin only help the country vibe. The title track and “My Home Town” have a more alt-pop feel, leaning toward Josh Garrels’ brand of twilit, sweeping adult-alternative. At its apex, “My Home Town” gathers steam into the sort of jubilant/morose chorus that Iron & Wine has perfected on his full-band records–the vocal melody seals the deal on it.

All of this is recorded and engineered excellently: the sounds pop out of speakers with astonishing clarity and ease. It’s not easy to engineer a record this bright, clean and clear without it getting a false-feeling sheen on it. B. Snipes and crew have really nailed the balance between clarity and emotive grit. It’s like a Ray LaMontagne album in that regard: it feels raw and passionate without actually sounding lo-fi. It’s a rare thing, and worth noting. Everything sounds gorgeous on Away, Away.

B. Snipes’ debut EP Away, Away is a remarkable release that shows off the beginnings of what could be something really amazing. With thoughtful lyrics, memorable melodies, and striking arrangements, B. Snipes establishes himself here. If you’re into Josh Ritter, The Avett Brothers, or any of the aforementioned bands, you’ll find much to love in Away, Away.

March MP3s: On the Fly

April 3, 2015

Here’s a batch of MP3s that I have been long remiss in posting. Also, happy Good Friday to you.

On the Fly

1. “A Warning of Sorts” – CHIRPING. Are we ever done with slick, well-produced, cheery indie-rock from Swedes? No, never. Put on your dancing shoes.

2. “Number One” – The Sideshow Tragedy. Did The Black Keys ever sound sinister? The Sideshow Tragedy has honed the blues-rock guitar/drums duo to a fine point here, packing in energy, melodies, dynamics, and (yes) even some sinister vocal vibes. Whoever can’t get behind a good tambourine needs to get this tune in front of them.

3. “Retro Bastard (KKBB Remix)” – Blood Sport. Kasey Keller Big Band turns out a remix of a song I’ve never heard, resulting in a complex pastiche of zooming digital sounds, heavy bass lines, complex drumming, and hollered vocals. Somehow, it turns into a herky-jerky dance tune, the sort of thing that mid-to-late ’00s dance-rock bands would have jonesed after. Intricate yet danceable, Artsy yet poppy? Turn that up.

4. “Sovereign Gore” – Casual Threats. Jamming post-hardcore’s dissonant aggression, post-punk’s wiry experimentation, and Interpol-esque dour melodies into one track is a tall order, but Casual Threats pull it off with confident aplomb.

5. “Unknown” – Lylit. If you have a way with a “whoa-oh,” you’re going to do well in today’s pop scene. Having an infectious groove that rides the line between dramatic and decidedly happy helps too.

6. “Lost is Found” – Perdido Key. In an age of no-nuance EDM, it’s refreshing to hear a club-ready tune with some atmosphere and restraint. It’s no surprise that it hearkens back to the ’90s–but not too much–to get that feel.

7. “Caves” – Sea Bed. Bouncy, rubbery keys give this dance tune a cool underwater feel, in addition to the boots’n’cats techno beat. (What up ’90s! Two in a row!) The vocal melody is infectious as well. This is way cool.

8. “He’s Heating Up” – Homeshake. So, this comes from an album that’s celebrating ’90s NBA basketball, which is a fantastic idea. Homeshake’s homage sounds like some unique alternate-universe version of Prince: feathery falsetto, vaguely funky mood, and affected sense of drama.

9. “Time For a New School of Alchemy” – ticktock. Glitchy electro had an idiosyncratic sort of beauty to it. This track harnesses bleeps, burbles, and chopped up sounds in the service of traditionally beautiful work that falls somewhere between ’80s synth-pop and modern bedroom chillwave.

10. “Mother of Maladies” – Marrow. I don’t know what it is about keyboards that can ground a funky song so well, but the wurlitzer gives this churning, whirling indie-rock piece a bit of solidity.

11. “Great Divide” – Humming House. Having great “whoa-ohs” helps in folk-pop too, as Humming House knows. Vocals reminiscent of The Avetts’ power this energetic, enthusiastic gem.

12. “When I Rise” – Diamondwolf. Percussion is real important in alt-country, and the stomp-clap drumming makes the mood here. The zinging pedal steel and heavy acoustic strum help too, making this into a powerful stomper of a tune.

13. “Ghost Town (Acoustic)” – Justin Klump. Klump’s voice has some of the trembling passion of Needtobreathe’s Bear Rinehart, but it’s set in a poignant, sentimental acoustic pop arrangement featuring cello and gentle banjo.

14. “Strong” – The Paper Shades. In the midst of this hurried and harried world, we need gentle singer/songwriter duos to tell us to “slow it down.” Unspool your stresses and let the gorgeous waves break kindly over you. Here’s to those who are still carrying the torch of calm.

Cancellieri’s Closet Songs is wholly wonderful

August 7, 2014

Cancellieri

I love punk, artsy electronica, even some post-hardcore now and then. But I’m always going to come back to the pristine simplicity of a solo voice over fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Cancellieri, hot on the heels of his excellent LP Welcome to Mount Pleasant, has given the world a whole album’s worth of gorgeous voice-and-guitar tracks. Winning my heart even more, eight of these fourteen tracks are covers. Closet Songs is wholly wonderful.

Ryan Cancellieri has a lot of things going for him on Closet Songs: he chooses covers excellently, he performs covers memorably, and writes songs of his own that stand up to the company of their peers. Let’s take these things in turn.

Closet Songs is put together like a good mixtape: some songs you absolutely don’t know, some you might know, a few you definitely know, at least one curveball to keep ’em guessing. I hadn’t heard “I Love You But Goodbye” by Langhorne Slim or “Mama’s Eyes” by Justin Townes Earle, although I respect both of those guys as songwriters. The songs are great, and I thank Cancellieri for letting me know about them. You may have heard “Bella Donna” or “Famous Flower of Manhattan” if you’re more of a Avett Brothers fan than me. You’ve most likely heard “Green Eyes” by Coldplay and “Murder in the City” by the Avetts. Curveball? “Dreams Be Dreams” by Jack Johnson. (Whoa bro.) The best part about all of these is that they’re not just great songs, they’re great songs for Cancellieri.

One of the problems that people who choose covers run into is that they like songs that they can’t possibly perform, vocally or musically. That is not the case here, as Cancellieri adapts the songs to fit his range comfortably. These all sound very easy and fun for him; they’re pleasing to the ear and soul for that element. (Nothing worse to me than someone who sounds like they’re having no fun trying to cover something.) His version of “Mama’s Eyes” definitely retains elements of Earle’s delivery, but it feels real and true in Cancellieri’s voice. That’s the mark of a strong cover. He doesn’t try to copy the original; he tries to be faithful to it while making it his own. It’s a rare skill, and Cancellieri shows he has it.

Another problem of covers is that sometimes a cover is the best thing in a set. (Uh-oh.) This happens because, well, you’re covering an elite talent, and sometimes you aren’t that. However, Cancellieri is an elite talent, and his songs stack well against his covers. “Fortunate Peace” and “Zalo” had me checking to see who wrote them, because they’re just brilliant songs. Cancellieri carries his songwriting voice with the gravitas of someone who knows what they’re doing. This doesn’t mean that he’s brash and bold; these songs are humble, even sad in spots. But Cancellieri sounds fully in control of the guitar, his vocal range, and lyrics on these tunes, which is not something that can be said of many singer/songwriters. You want to test it? You can press play on the first track of the soundcloud and then go to a different tab. Try to guess which are his and which aren’t. You’ll be impressed.

Cancellieri’s Closet Songs is a beautiful, poised, mature offering. It plays like a good mixtape, and it sounds like a great album. This is one of my favorite singer/songwriter releases of the year so far. (With apologies to his own previous full-length!) You very much need to check out Closet Songs if you’re a fan of fingerpicking-heavy singer/songwriters like Justin Townes Earle and The Tallest Man on Earth. (Also Joe Pug, but not because of the fingerpicking.)

Quick Hits: Ghost to Falco / Robert Deeble

April 25, 2014

ghosttofalco

Ghost to Falco is that sort of folk/rock band that seems to ooze atmosphere. Whether it’s ominous (“Born to Win”), martial (“Enemies Calling”) or warm (“High Treason”), Eric Crespo and co. know how to make me feel things on Soft Shield. Deer Tick and Two Gallants also have this vibe, so Crespo is in good company. These songs lean more toward Two Gallants’ minimalism; even though Ghost to Falco employs a full band throughout, space is an important part of the sound (“No Reward,” “Feel the Glory”).

This gives the songs a cinematic quality different than that of film scores: these songs literally feel like stories, like journeys that have a beginning and end. It’s a rare skill, to take songs out of the realm of “pop song” and situate them in another milieu entirely. But listening to Soft Shield, it’s hard to imagine these songs in the same realm as The Avett Brothers. These songs have grit, body, and a life of their own outside of the preconceived, circumscribed bounds of three-minute pop songs.

Crespo’s vocal delivery documents every swoop and sway of his emotional state in the tiny bends and wrenches of phrases and words. This gives his songs even more emotive punch than the songwriting alone in the hands of a different vocalist might provide. Between the cinematic songwriting and evocative vocals, Ghost to Falco is a band doing things in a unique and exciting way. If you’re into folk-rock that doesn’t prize “singing along” as the only virtue, Ghost to Falco is a necessary listen.

robertdeebleletter

Robert Deeble has been putting out albums at his own pace since 1997. (As a person who’s run the same blog for almost 11 years: game recognize game.) His most recent release is a celebration of that history, as Letters from an Expatriate is a live recording that revisits 1998’s Earthside Down with the original band.

Deeble’s gentle, measured folk vibe is in full flower here; his earnest, emotive lyrics and quiet arrangements come together to make beauty. Fans of Gregory Alan Isakov and Alexi Murdoch will find Deeble’s unhurried moods familiar. But where both of those emphasize lyrical romanticism, Deeble works in much heavier territory, spinning tales of woe and redemption. It’s a very entertaining live set, especially for those who enjoy the quieter side of things. If you haven’t been introduced to Robert Deeble, Letters from an Expatriate is a great place to start.

Emily and the Complexes throw down some singer/songwriter-esque rock

December 6, 2012

If you make art about brothers, you’ve pretty much got me. The Darjeeling Limited, “Murder in the City” by The Avett Brothers, and “Brother” by Annuals are all way up in my list because of my own two brothers. (I just finished talking to one of my two brothers before I wrote this.) So when I found that the opening track of Emily and the ComplexesStyrofoam Plate Blues is named “Brother Don’t Wait,” I was hooked.

It helps that “Brother Don’t Wait” is a beautiful tune, strummed quietly on a solo electric guitar. Tyler Verhagen’s evocative tenor can barely contain his emotions as he encourages his brother to move on with his life after a difficult breakup. Its simple, but it’s powerful. This highly emotional, spartan sound doesn’t appear again until the album closer “Andy.” “Andy” is even more raw lyrically and musically, closing the album on a beautiful, wrenching note. If Verhagen’s got a solo project kicking around, I really want to hear it.

I like the sound of the rest of the album too, just not as much. The majority of this album is Verhagen and his bandmates throwing down rock’n’roll that sounds like a cross between Bright Eyes and a ’90s slacker-rock band. Verhagen inhabits the no-motivation, nothing-to-do stance in most of these lyrics, seeing travel as a way to escape all the ills that befall him. From “Social Skills” to “I Don’t Wanna Brush My Teeth” to “Would You,” Verhagen writes the slacker effectively.

The music fits in a loud, grungy mode, with lots of distortion. But this isn’t really riff-driven rock; it’s powered primarily by Verhagen’s voice, just as with much of Bright Eyes’ work. There’s even a hint of country in the way the lead guitar plays. This leads to dramatic soft/loud juxtapositions (“Would You,” “Styrofoam Plate Blues”) as well as more straightforward tunes (“Pillar of Salt,” “Two States Away”). Still, at no point does the band lose the vocal line in the instrumentals. This is a rock band that wants you to know what they’re saying.

The album is named after its most memorable rock track. The band starts off the tune with a dreary, dreamy, slow-paced section before snapping to attention with some rigid, sharp rhythms. The guitars and drums work together to accentuate the heavy rhythmic qualities of the song, creating a powerful tune that is more than the sum of its parts.

Styrofoam Plate Blues features some incredibly memorable tunes in two different styles. It never strays far from its singer/songwriter roots, even when rocking out; this makes for a unique, fun listening experience. Recommended for fans of emotive, vocals-centric rock’n’roll.

Come On Pilgrim vastly exceeds folk/indie expectations

October 12, 2012

Most of the things I choose to review at Independent Clauses are good, even if I don’t explicitly say the words “good” or “excellent” in the review. I try to reserve the words of high praise for works that truly go above and beyond the bounds that a genre has set for an artist. Come On Pilgrim‘s self-titled record clears the folk/indie bar by a long way.

Come On Pilgrim! is the sort of album that I and many others have cultivated a taste for over the past ten years. The folk-inspired acoustic songwriting, interesting arrangements, passionate performances, thoughtful lyrics and memorable melodies all come together to make something more than the sum of its parts. The album is also more than the sum of its predecessors. While the loudest moments are a continuation of the anthemic bent that lead songwriter Josh Caress struck on his last solo release Perestroika, Come On Pilgrim! is the work of a whole cast of musicians who push the best aspects of Caress’ previous LPs to new heights.

“Regenerator” elegantly displays Caress’ progression as a songwriter. The song starts off with a droning organ, reminiscent of the drone that marks the beautiful Letting Go of a Dream. It grows through a long, flowing, emotive section (The Rockford Files) before exploding into a howling finale that excellently incorporates some of the darker indie rock that characterized the back half of Perestroika. The result is a distinctive sound that Josh Caress has been working towards for years: beautiful, relatable, passionate, haunting.

But it’s not all Caress; as previously noted, there’s a whole band here that makes the sound. The keyboards, pedal steel and violin permeate every tune as fundamental elements. An acoustic version of “The Ashes and the Springtime (That Wild Feeling)” could be an outtake from the sparse, finger-picked Goes on an Adventure, but it is enhanced from the get-go with atmospheric pedal steel contributions. Piano carries the chorus; the violin brings in the motif that I can’t escape from this album. Caress later doubles the motif with his voice, but not before female vocals introduce the haunting lyrics: “Don’t you want that wild feeling?”

“The True New Fire” knows the wild feeling. The song takes its time to build into a soaring, wordless vocal line over rumbling toms, unfolding during five minutes. The unhurried songwriting allows each of the instrumental contributions to breathe. The results are breathtaking, like a city dweller seeing the stars in Kansas at midnight for the first time.

While those songs are impressive, the “best” tag goes to the 7 minutes and 40 seconds of “The Secret Songs,” which shows off Caress’s lyrical and vocal abilities in an absolutely gorgeous song. It’s about “That night you came over with your dress torn/and I held you while you cried”; Caress has been telling stories of emotional distress since (at least) Letting Go, but in this one everything comes together perfectly. Caress’s voice creaks in places, but it does so with confidence; the lyrics and tone of his voice sync up to deliver a powerful performance. If finding your voice in writing means coming to grips with your talents and embracing them, Caress has found his lyrical and melodic voices here.

The eight songs of Come On Pilgrim! sprawl over 40+ minutes, making this a listening experience as opposed to a quick hit. The songs are carefully, lovingly arranged, and it shows in the final product. Come On Pilgrim! is easily a highlight of the year, even in a year when Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers and Grizzly Bear released albums. I keep coming back to it over and over because it exceeds my expectations for folk/indie in almost every way.

David Ramirez's impeccably written tunes add to the singer/songwriter craft

August 17, 2012

In an age of disruption, it is profoundly comforting to see someone doggedly carrying on a torch that so many want to decry, digitize or destroy altogether. Everything from digital streaming to high gas prices makes it hard to be a craftsman of song right now, but David Ramirez doesn’t care. He’s a rambling troubadour who has looked for redemption in a bar stool, but instead found it in God and women. He loves traveling the country, until he misses family, friends and women. These are timeworn, careworn themes, and Ramirez treats them with dignity by falling right into the stream and carving his own niche in the flow.

Ramirez undeniably has heard, learned from and played with a ton of other singer/songwriters, and he shows no intentions of being experimental in any regard. But that’s what it means to be a part of a craft: Ramirez saw and heard, and now says so that others can hear. Are these songs beautiful? Undeniably, incredibly so. They come invested with a depth of history that resonates through Ramirez’s weary yet confident voice. You can hear it in the steady strum, and in the turns of phrase. Many have been here, and many will come after. And the mark in time that is Apologies will add into the chorus of songs and albums that someone (hopefully someones) in the next generation of songwriters will be influenced by. Ramirez himself muses on learning in the opening lines of the album:

“Well I never paid attention when I was a young boy
To the great instructions from the ones that came before me
Now that I’m older I long to pay attention
But it doesn’t seem like anyone is saying much of anything”

Opener “Chapter II” is one of the highlights of the album; a self-aware rumination that culminates in the poignant claim, “Well I’ve been holding on so long it seems, That what I’m holding has been holding me.” Voice and earthy acoustic guitar form the basis of the tune, just as they form the basis of the rest of the songs on the album. Contributions from a full band fill out some tunes (“An Introduction,” “Dancing and Vodka,” “Mighty Fine”), while banjo, piano, and harmonica make occasional solo appearances. But the heart of this album is Ramirez’s baritone and six-string, which is why standout tracks “Goodbye” and “Find the Light” rely on those two elements.

All eleven tracks on Apologies are keepers; there’s not a clunker in the batch. The highs are very high, and the lows are pretty high too. It’s definitely on the consideration list for Top Ten of the year, because the songs just resonate with a deep part of me that wants traditions to live on. We can have new traditions (I’m stoked for M&S’ and the Avetts’ new albums, just like everyone else), but there’s a rare joy in hearing something that could have been written 50 years ago being turned out now. I hope that we will be able to hear some fantastic songwriter 50 years from now who knows the value of considering the past in the process of creating weighty tunes. Because that’s what David Ramirez has done here: written strong tunes that could go on to be learned, loved and covered. Bravo.

The top twenty quest

September 7, 2010

I blew up my computer a few weeks ago, resulting in the lack of posts. I apologize for the deathly pallor that seemed to settle over Independent Clauses. It’s been a pretty crazy few weeks. I get my new computer Friday, and we should be rolling again.

I love and hate live shows. Transcendent, life-affirming and soul-expanding are all phrases I have lavished on excellent sets; soul-crushing, abrasive and interminable are all words with which I have belittled terrible performances. A thoroughly average act skews more to the interminable side, which means the room for error is large.

Making matters even more sketchy is this all-too-common occurrence: that band with lovely recordings which smushes my expectations into the dirt with a reprehensible live show. One band that shall remain nameless suckerpunched me twice: the first set I saw was so awful that I incorrectly passed it off as “an off night” and felt optimistic going in to the second set a year later, which ended up being exponentially worse. I don’t listen to that band any more.

And yet, through all of this potential for letdown, I keep anticipating live shows (I’m resisting a comparison to love and relationships). That anticipation has translated into a new and ongoing project: I’m going on a quest to see all top twenty of my most-listened-to bands (according to my Last.FM).  Here’s the list, complete with current statuses. Bold indicates I have plans to see them before the end of the year.

1. The Mountain Goats (1,063 plays) – Seen twice, once in Norman and once in Dallas
2. Sufjan Stevens (1,010 plays)
3. Novi Split (597 plays)
4. Coldplay (490 plays) – Seen once: Ford Center, Oklahoma City.
5. Damien Jurado (487 plays) – Seen once: Opolis, Norman.
6. Joe Pug – Seen once: The Conservatory, Oklahoma City.
7. Low Anthem – Seen once: Rose State Auditorium, Midwest City.
8. Elijah Wyman
9. Death Cab for Cutie – Seen once: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa.
10. Relient K – Seen 4-6 times, various Tulsa and Oklahoma City locations.
11. Josh Caress
12. Owl City – Seen once: McCasland Fieldhouse, University of Oklahoma, Norman.
13. Josh Ritter
14. Rocky Votolato
15. Switchfoot – Seen once: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa.
16. Bleach – Seen 3 times: various Tulsa locations. RIP
17. Mumford and Sons
18. The Avett Brothers – Seen twice: Austin City Limits 2009; Rose State Auditorium, Midwest City.
19. The Tallest Man on Earth
20. Before Braille – RIP

And to get myself back into writing about music, I’ll be writing about each of the bands, in order.

500 Miles to Memphis' inspired country/punk gets even more diverse

March 2, 2010

500 Miles to Memphis500 Miles to Memphis‘ last album Sunshine in a Shot Glass was a wild country-punk album dedicated to what seemed to be the nastiest break-up ever. Lead singer Ryan Malott, in his attempts to improve in all aspects upon the last album, went out and had another friggin’ breakup (or, God forbid, it’s the same breakup still happening) that seems even more brutal than the last. Thus, we have We’ve Built Up to NOTHING, which is one of the only titles I’ve ever seen that manages to yell.

I feel straight-up awful for Ryan Malott if these tunes are all autobiographical, but I’m thankful that he’s so good at getting his angst down on tape. If the first one was a great break-up album, this is an epic breakup album. Where Sunshine in a Shot Glass reveled in the country/punk dichotomy, We’ve Built Up to NOTHING sees it as a fact of life and gets on with writing great songs. This allows the band to expand its sound out in great ways, like the Avett Brothers-esque piano-country-punk of “Let it Go,” instrumental interludes “…” and “dejas,” the nine-minute-long kiss-off “Everybody Needs an Enemy,” and the 3-minutes-exactly adrenaline blast that is “Shots.” There are marching bands, strings, organs, pianos, banjos, and more. The title track closes out the album with a tuba-led strings and brass orchestra, and Malott pulls off the guitar-less song with such slick expertise you’d think he’s been doing it forever.

Some parts he has been doing forever. There are two-steppin’ country-punk songs like the frantic “It’s Alright” and “East Texas Angel” that have nothing distinctive in them but Malott’s trademark vocals, solid melodies, and a punk strum. And that’s enough to turn out a great song all on its own. But it’s experiments like the relatively mellow, heart-rending “You Loved Me Once” and the organ-soaked romance of “Moonlight” have little to do with punk and more to do with emotion-tugging country and pop which make this album so infectious.

This isn’t just a rage-tastic break-up middle finger in musical form. This is a thoughtful evaluation of all the emotions that come along with a breakup, as filtered through Ryan Malott’s singer/songwriter idiom. As a result, the tempos, styles and sounds of the album are incredibly varied. I mean,  “Moonlight” could be on country radio right now and no one would know that 500 Miles to Memphis is mostly a punk band. And that’s awesome.

If you’ve gotten your heart broken, We’ve Built Up to NOTHING is a therapy session and a half. If you like country-punk, these guys are the reigning kings. If you like adrenaline-fueled punk albums, you’ll still like this album. And, amazingly, if you like hot country, you’ll find treats for your ears here. 500 Miles to Memphis has pushed their sound out to new areas and conquered them thoroughly. An amazing release.

P.S. Someone love Ryan Malott. Please.

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

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