Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Tri-State / Kira Velella / U137

October 15, 2013

tristate

When you’ve been in music for a while, nuance and subtlety become more important to you. This is true for listeners and creators; although I can still appreciate a mighty guitar riff, I find myself entranced by complex lyrical turns and less obvious arrangements. Tri-State is a band composed of people who have been in bands, and you can tell from the songs they write. These pop-rock tunes, while poppy, are not constructed as instant hits. These are measured tunes, tunes that take their time on little guitar bits (“All Different,” “Back Before”) just because. This unhurried, “let’s give this some space” method is much like that of IC fave The Brixton Riot.

Tri-State’s tunes unfold in pleasing ways: “Back Before” creates an ominous mood that builds and builds, while follow-up “Country Squire” toes the line between pop-rock and alt-country. It doesn’t feel disjointed at all; the songs feel like outworkings of the same thought process. If you’re into ’90s indie-rock (Pavement, Guided by Voices) or mature songwriting that appreciates with multiple listens, you should give Tri-State’s self-titled EP a spin.

kiravelella

Kira Velella‘s gentle voice is the primary feature of her singer/songwriter tunes, and for good reason. Her second soprano/alto voice commands the arrangements, sucking the listener in. “Lover, Move” and “Barn Swallow” both feature strong instrumental songwriting that is totally eclipsed by the endearing confidence of Velella’s voice. She accomplishes the rare feat of encapsulating confidence and vulnerability in a single performance, which keeps me coming back to the tunes.

This uncommon tension buoys the six-song Daughter EP, making it consistently interesting to the invested listener. The wintry arrangements accomplish a second improbable feat: the Damien Jurado-esque characteristic of feeling both lush and sparse at the same time. It gives Velella’s vocals both the forefront and a space to inhabit; it is easy to imagine Velella in a video clip of a snow-covered field for any of these tracks. The mood here is strong throughout tunes, giving a polish to the release. All told, this is an impressive debut offering from Kira Velella.

dreamerontherun

Categories can be stultifying and abrasive, but they are helpful starting points for conversation. Saying that U137 plays post-rock is mildly helpful to get the conversation started, but saying that the band plays “pretty” post-rock (Moonlit Sailor, Dorena, The Album Leaf) instead of “heavy” post-rock (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Tyranny is Tyranny) is far more descriptive. You’re going to hear a lot of arpeggios, humongous crescendoes to jubilant melodies, and ethereal synths in Dreamer on the Run. If you’re into that, then the 40 or so minutes you spend listening will be breathtaking.

It’s not the sort of album where one particular track sticks out: it’s simply a forty-minute excursion into a beautiful section of the world. If you’re feeling down about the government shutdown, gun violence, poverty, or any other modern malaise, Dreamer on the Run can help you forget that for a few minutes and remember that there are so many beautiful things in the world to comfort you. This, simply put, is a gorgeous record.

Top 36 songs of the year

December 27, 2012

I usually like to get this post to a nice round number, but I didn’t get it there this year. Here’s what my year sounded like, y’all! This post isn’t ranked; instead, it’s a playlist of sorts. My ranked post will come tomorrow.

1. “Canvas Shoes” – The Brixton Riot
2. “Never Heard of Dylan” – The Finest Hour
3. “Heard It All Before” – The Switch
4. “How Do I Know” – Here We Go Magic
5. “Lady Percy” – King Charles
6. “You Left Your Sweater…” – Cobalt and the Hired Guns
7. “Monster Fiction” – Oh Look Out!
8. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” – John K. Samson
9. “Lightshow” – Plants and Animals
10. “Believer” – Ponychase
11. “Day is Gone” – Phoebe Jean and the Air Force (My runner-up favorite music video!)
12. “Still Analog” – The March Divide
13. “Hap Hej” – Dva
14. “Love Changes Everything” – Amy Correia
15. “The Road” – Nicollette Good
16. “Kneebone” – The Miami
17. “I Rose Up At the Dawn of the Day” – Martha Redbone
18. “Virtues, Spices and Liquors” – 4H Royalty
19. “I’m Happy All the Time (Sad Hawaii Version)” – Decent Lovers
20. “When I Hit My Stride” – Jonas Friddle
21. “Mom and Me Versus You and Dad” – Pan
22. “Walrus Meat” – The Parmesans
23. “See the Conqueror” – Jenny and Tyler
24. “Advice From People Who Shouldn’t Give It (Don’t Take It)” – Superstar Runner
25. “All Creatures” – ElisaRay
26. “This Love Won’t Break Your Heart” – Annalise Emerick
27. “The Secret Songs” – Come On Pilgrim!
28. “All My People Go” – Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn
29. “Tuck the Darkness In” – Bowerbirds (My favorite video of the year!)
30. “Brother Don’t Wait” – Emily and the Complexes
31. “Survivor Blues” – Cory Branan
32. “A-Okay” – Summer of Sam
33. “Farewell Old Friends” – Jacob Furr
34. “If I Were A Surfer” – Elephant Micah
35. “All I Have” – Young Readers
36. “Shenandoah” – Goldmund

The Brixton Riot pays attention, and it pays dividends

June 13, 2012

I don’t listen to a lot of guitar rock. I liked the singles when guitar rock was big in the early ‘00s, but when the crop of “The” bands died down, I was left with a lot of second-rate stuff that didn’t do it for me. So it was much to my surprise when Palace Amusements by The Brixton Riot (check the “the”!) fell into my lap. It’s straight-up guitar rock, but I couldn’t get the songs out of my head. From the catchy opener “Signal to Noise” to the slow-burning “Pinwheel” to the crunchy “Losing Streak,” I just loved it and I couldn’t really explain why. So I went to the source: Jerry Lardieri, vocalist and a guitarist for the band.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that the band is composed of long-time friends who just fell into a rhythm after playing together for a while. “When we started out, it was a lot more jangly. When Matt joined the band–he’s a big Husker Du fan–he brought a much louder drum style,” Lardieri said. There is still some jangle to be had, as “Hipster Turns 30” dials back the distorted charge for a mid-tempo tune. But on the whole, the drums and guitars go hard: their attack on “Canvas Shoes” is matched by a passionate vocal performance, while rambunctious performances are posted for both in the country-flavored “Carmelita.”

“ We’re big Wilco fans, from before Wilco got into the experimental stuff. We’re big fans of A.M. and Summerteeth,” explained Lardieri. But through the course of our talk, Lardieri mentioned The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Curtis Mayfield, The Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr. and even Oasis—which gets a humorous shout-out in “Carmelita.”

That track plays a pretty pivotal role in Palace Amusements. The song numerically kicks off the second half of the album, and it’s a big connector track.The powerful “Pinwheel” and wry “Hipster Turns 30” don’t flow neatly into the upbeat rockers “Ocean Avenue” and “Strange Matter,” so “Carmelita” fills the gap. “There was a lot of argument about how to organize the record,” Lardieri said, noting that the band went back and forth with a number of configurations. They each made changes to the order before settling on a “definitive mix,” and it shows: the album flows neatly through moods while keeping an earnest, passionate feel throughout.

It’s detailed touches like that one which ultimately draw me to Palace Amusements: from easter egg lyrics to song order to repeated revisions of the songs (including cutting a whole intro to a tune because it didn’t work in the context of the album), the band put an unusual amount of effort into making the album work. It’s one thing to have great songs, like Brixton Riot does; it’s quite another in this fast-paced media age to thoughtfully, painstakingly, carefully perfect an album.

There’s plenty of great hooks and guitar riffs to be had within the twelve tracks of Palace Amusements, and that was what hooked me. But the members of The Brixton Riot appreciate the album experience, and that’s what keeps me coming back to this satisfying experience.

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

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