Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Grant Valdes shows promising creativity at CD release of 'At Peace At Last'

July 15, 2010

As a newcomer to the Seattle music scene, I was eagerly anticipating my inevitable introduction to the many talented local artists that the Pacific Northwest is producing. I got just such an opportunity when Stephen asked me to review the album and CD release of Grant Valdes and his newest album of indie-folk, At Peace At Last. Valdes was previously the primary songwriter in The Empty Mirror.

Grant’s talent as both a musician and a songwriter was obvious from the start of the show as he began with “What the Hell Do I Know” and “When We are Dead” off his new album. Grant led his trio with guitar and keyboard melodies that were well conceived. He conducted the violinist and dreadlocked cellist, who accompanied him in a clear and connected way. The simple combination of strings and piano matched Grant’s singular, full-toned voice and created a haunting, poignant sound that lingered in my head as I hummed between tunes.

Grant also showed an impressive ability to invent lyrics that dramatically communicate his exploration of the purpose of life, death, and love in a creative and unique way. Let’s face it, that’s often hard to find. He explores the never-ending question of politics on “Fear the A-Bomb” and “Plutocracy,” and his conclusions seem to be familiar and attractive to his audiences. The songs brought a strong response and energy from the crowd who made it to the release show.

Grant’s vocals are especially effective because of his ability to move between his breathy falsetto and his stronger voicing in a way that communicates unbiased emotion in each and every tune. This is especially true on “A Lesson for Kurt,” “I Know,” and “The Gift of a Poor Memory.” His strongest vocals appear on “Antithing” and “Fear the A-Bomb.”

All around, Grant is a talented musician and songwriter whose tunes are bound to get stuck in your head – and you will like it. His compositions for piano and guitar are creative, but his experimentation in composing for violin and cello really makes the album a step above the rest in this category. His insightful lyrics are hauntingly perceptive to the human condition. For some indie-folk that will catch your attention and satisfy your desire for both melodic and lyrical potency, be sure to look for more on Grant Valdes and At Peace At Last.

The Empty Mirror uses an unusual jumping-off point for its sound

February 2, 2010

It is sad that when grunge pretty much died in 1994, the post-grunge movement chose Nirvana as the jumping-off point instead of Smashing Pumpkins. The musical output of Billy Corgan and Co. was much more progressive and provided more potential artistic avenues than that of Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic. Fans of Nirvana got dozens of soundalike bands to help them through their grief. Fans of Smashing Pumpkins got…more Smashing Pumpkins.

For those who wish there was more Corgan to go around, I present to you The Empty Mirror’s Abstracted Catholic Opus (they refuse to label it an EP). Fuse the early nineties sound of Pumpkins with some modern production values and a bit of indie-rock pompousness, and you’ve got Abstracted Catholic. If you’re a fan of Corgan, you are allowed to foam at the mouth a bit. If you’re decidedly anti-Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, you may need to look away now.

These five songs are short, punchy and full of attitude. While bandleader Grant Valdes is cut from the same cloth as Corgan in terms of pretentiousness and guitar aesthetic, these songs are not mere Pumpkins rip-offs. There’s a modern indie aesthetic attached to these songs that’s hard to put a finger on until you listen to Pumpkins songs for contrast. The mood of Abstracted Catholic (which the one-sheet calls nightmericana, interestingly) is highly important and carefully developed through use of bass, neutral space, and other songwriting mechanisms. The Empty Mirror isn’t just pounding out the rock with a grating sneer over it (as the other band I keep mentioning revels in doing). They’re writing songs, not just rock songs.

When all is said and done, fans of Smashing Pumpkins will find much to love here. Fans of thoughtful indie rock can find things to appreciate as well, as Valdes is a good songwriter. There’s a lot of ways that The Empty Mirror can go to break away from the Pumpkins comparisons, as the band has left a lot of loose ends of their sound unexplored. I’m not sure, however, if that’s something they want to break away from. Interesting, but not long-term listening.

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

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