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.
Another mixtape! This one’s predominantly dark indie rock, instrumental hip-hop, and lush indie.
0. “Need Parmesan” – Pjaro. From the surrealistically named Why Is No One Here I Can Make You Alt comes a crazy instrumental indie-rock piece that’s like a post-rock piece if Two Gallants were trying to play the genre and out of frustration they gave up and played really loud. This one’s surprising and intriguing.
1. “Waiting” – Program. Remember the mid ’00s, when everything was super-epic because The Arcade Fire ruled and everyone wanted to be like them? I loved that time. Program remember that time well, with synths and toms and all the right stops’n’starts.
2. “Liar Liar” – Vienna Ditto. Someday, all genres will be one genre, and I’ll be out of a job. Until then, it’s my job to tell you that tribal drums, Portishead-style vocals and swaggering guitar riffs come together for some crazy, gripping music here.
3. “View of My Sanity” – Anna Lena and the Orchids. Another singer/songwriter indebted to the icy soundscapes and incisive vocals of Portishead, another beautiful tune.
4. “Endless Possibilities” – The Boxing Lesson. Space rock that consumed an orchestra? Sign me up.
5. “Proto” – Ryan Hemsworth. This one comes from Mitsuda, the hip-hop tribute to video game soundtrack creator Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger). YES TO THE YES.
6. “I Still Think of You From Time to Time” – Louville. Trombones, pulsing beats, and wiry synths come together to form … euphoric electronica? Whatever, just roll with its beauty.
7. “Nothing Left to Say” – Poldoore. Super cool heist movies, take notice: here’s a candidate for your next soundtrack inclusion.
8. “Staying In” – Ola Podrida. Mysterious tune that kinda sounds like a dungeon level soundtrack, until the beautiful chorus kicks in.
9. “Chinese Paper Cuts” – Own Goal. The sparse instrumentation creates a unique indie-soul atmosphere that will appeal to fans of The Antlers.
10. “Blue Elvis” – Peals. It sounds like two guys sitting on the porch making beautiful, low-key, beautiful instrumental music because they can. I dig it.
11. “Seven” – Qualia. Loose, chill, moving post-rock that evokes The Album Leaf, lazy Saturday afternoons and/or epic realizations. Wonderful stuff.
I’ve spent a lot of time and thought on what Independent Clauses should be. It’s gone through many iterations, and I’ve been realizing over the past two months that it’s about to go through another. I’ve always wanted to be the first line of defense for young bands: I’ll review your album if you have zero press, bad spelling and a 3-song demo. If it’s great, it’s great. If it’s not, I’ll tell you what I thought and hopefully you don’t think I’m a jerk. That’s been SOP for IC since day one.
But back in the day, I thought I could do that for every genre. That’s just entirely unfeasible. I can’t be knowledgeable at every style of music. I may like a couple hardcore and metal bands, but I have no idea what makes them good other than the fact that I enjoy it. Even if I heard a great unsigned metal band, I would have little idea how to describe it (and even less clue about RIYLs), because I don’t know the ins and outs of metal.
This is true for me of rap, metal, hardcore, modern rock/post-grunge, blues and jazz. I like a bit of each (K’Naan, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Traindodge, The Flavor and John Coltrane, for starters), but I just feel unqualified to review it. So I’m pretty much going to stop reviewing those genres and focus in on folk, alt-country, indie-pop, indie-rock and post-rock. I’m taking a break from punk so that I can love it again in the near future.
The reason I bring this up is that The Boxing Lesson falls on the outskirts of my knowledge, just on this side of the border. I don’t listen to much psychedelic music, partially because I’ve never had the desire to be high. I say “much” because The Flaming Lips are Oklahoma’s rock heroes, and I listen to their music almost de facto.
The Boxing Lesson has the space-rock/psych thing going on its Muerta EP. “Darker Side of the Moog” features synths galore in a sweeping, atmospheric way. The song transforms into a slow-moving but cohesive bit of pop-influenced songwriting; it’s not exactly go-for-the-hook songcraft, but the melodies are recognizable to those who love a v/c/v setup (me). “Muerta” and “Cassiopeia” are much the same, calling up some Pink Floyd references in their expansive, slow-moving folds.
Closer “Drone to Sleep” is most like a pop song, in that fuzzed out guitar strum and a dominant vocal melody carry the song. It’s still got the synths and spaced-out vibe; its woozy self will definitely still to the core demographic of psych-heads. But people who enjoy meandering pop and folk will find much to love in the track. It really does make me want to go to sleep as the sound washes over me, in a Spiritualized sort of way. It’s kind of like Jonsi, honestly – and that’s really cool. It’s easily my favorite track on the EP.
So, I’m not the best guy to be evaluating The Boxing Lesson, and I’m not too proud to admit it. But it does have some elements that can be appreciated by all — and that’s the mark of great songwriting.
The Boxing Lessonclaims to be from Austin, Texas (and I guess I believe them), but they sound like they’re from outer space. The group’s latest album, Wild Streaks & Windy Days, establishes a psychedelic, dreamy sound that remains consistent throughout.
The opening track of the album is titled “Dark Side of the Moog” – a funny name for an otherwise serious song. Paul Waclawsky’s guitar riff is head-bangable, and Jaylinn Davidson’s moog playing gives the song its otherworldly feel. The driving beat (provided by Jake Mitchell) adds a heavier rock flavor that makes this song a strong opener. Surely, there must be aliens somewhere out there, doing drugs or dancing (or both) to “Dark Side of the Moog.”
“Hopscotch & Sodapop” has the biggest pop influence on Wild Streaks & Windy Days, which is unsurprising when taking the song title into account, and therefore stands out compared to the rest of the album. It doesn’t differ too much, however, because the guitar and synthesizers keep the mood psychedelic. There is also a breakdown moment in the middle, where the fast tempo slows down a bit; this sounds more like the rest of Wild Steaks & Windy Days.
“Hanging with the Wrong Crowd” and “Dance with Meow” both have an electronica/dance feel, but, again, they still fit nicely with the other songs on the album. Probably the strongest aspect of this release from The Boxing Lesson is their ability to blend several different styles with their own predominant genre of space-rock. As a result, the album has enough diversity to be interesting, but is also very cohesive.
Waclawsky’s vocals really shine in “Wild Streaks & Windy Days,” the last track. Its slow tempo gives him a chance to show off his clear, high voice, and it also makes this song sound a little like Sigur Rós. Overall, this album is recommended for Pink Floyd fans, or for astronaut-wannabes. The Boxing Lesson is currently on tour, and is coming at The Opolis next week, for all you Normanites.
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.