Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Boxing Lesson teaches me a thing or two about psych (and myself, and IC)

June 30, 2011

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 Flavor starts to win me over to the blues

June 28, 2011

I don’t like the blues. I’ve tried many times to appreciate the genre, and I just find myself wanting to skip on to something else. Two of my cooler friends decided that someday I might like it if I keep listening to music. I felt this was sort of like them saying, “We’ll tell you when you’re older.” Sadz.

So I was naturally a bit apprehensive when I popped in the self-titled debut disc from The Flavor. I’ve reviewed other projects from musicians in this band, and I like to follow the musicians I cover. But my cringe was not necessary. The Flavor makes blues that are appealing to non-blues fans. I would guess that blues purists would have other comments, but from a pop music standpoint, The Flavor is way entertaining.

The members of the band make it clear from the very beginning of the album that they’re out to have a good time and ensure their listeners do too. The 14-song disc opens with off-the-cuff studio banter before launching into “Hot Sauce,” which is a rollicking blues-rock tune lead by an acoustic guitar and entendre-laden lyrics. It’s a bouncy, upbeat number that’s instantly appealing.

The band’s songwriting is tight; this definitely has to do with the multiple genres that the musicians have played in. You play long enough and you realize that no matter the genre, it’s about songs with hooks. And The Flavor’s got ‘em. From “The Truth” to “Short-Haired Women,” the four-piece shows that it knows its way around a melody. It’s the strength of that melodic knowlege that makes the solo sections that appear throughout the album not feel tedious. It’s also the reason why the near-seven-minute tune “Closer to You” feels solid instead of overbearing.

It’s not all perfect: “My Guitar,” even if it’s parodying songs about men who love their guitars more than their women, is too jokey. The songwriting of “Bleedin’ Soul” relies too much on vocals, and the vocalist oversings as a result.  Some of the jokes are a little on the silly side, but with how fun the music is, it can be ignored. I’d probably be drinking and dancing while listening to The Flavor, so i wouldn’t hear those bits live anyway.

But with only two real clunkers on a 14-song disc, they’ve done a great job. The recording job is to be commended, as well as the beautiful solo acoustic outro “End,” which made this folk fan’s ears perk up. (More of that, please?)

I’m really excited that I heard and enjoyed The Flavor. Maybe this release marks my entry into the world of blues. Maybe it will be yours?

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

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