Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Death and the Penguin: Clever, Intelligent, Heavy

April 14, 2014

deathandthepenguin

I don’t review much rock music anymore, because much of it doesn’t excite me aesthetically or push me intellectually. But when a band breaks through the garage-rock haze that is covering so much of rock with melodic prowess and technical brilliance, I sit up and take notice. Death and the Penguin (named after a Russian novel) is the most exciting rock/post-hardcore band that I’ve heard since The Felix Culpa. With the members of Mars Volta hopping around various side projects and one-off things, Death and the Penguin looks like they’re offering their band as a good candidate to step into TMV’s spazzy, eclectic shoes. The 20 minutes of Accidents Happen are one long campaign speech (if people went back and listened to campaign speeches over and over, which I’m sure someone somewhere does).

Now everyone is in a race to be crowned the next TMV, and maybe that’s a disservice to all the bands whose personalities are getting subverted into this quest. But let me tell you: “Strange Times” is the most straightforward track on the EP. It fits neatly into the post-hardcore milieu, especially with the vocal tone and delivery. But though it fits neatly, it still has wildcards. Check out its deceptively short 2:30 for proof.

Need more diversity? “Bitumen” starts off as a stomping/clapping work chant before turning into a groove-heavy rocker. The guitar tone, the rhythmic variations, the intensity of it, the crisp production; it just all comes together perfectly. This may be a debut, but these musicians have played for a while. They know how to draw energy out of the smallest bits of song as well as the biggest ones.

The rest of the EP continues in that vein: juxtaposing unexpected sounds, creating tension and resolving it, and (most of all) throwing down wicked guitar riffs. “Space 1998″ is particularly powerful in those regards–as the second track, it’s the one that really raised my eyebrows and hooked me for the rest of the EP. Accidents Happen, alright, but this is EP doesn’t have much in the way of error. It’s tight, poised, heavy, energetic, intelligent, and clever. That doesn’t happen very often.

New Lungs / Cyan Marble

April 20, 2013

newlungs

New LungsLanterns is an incredible release that ties together the best parts of post-rock, serious indie-rock and optimism. I know it seems like these things would not mesh conceptually, but New Lungs does a bang-up job combining them.

Look no further than “Concrete” for your example, where a tom-heavy rhythm anchors a speedy, rhythmically complex guitar/bass fusion. The surprisingly bright guitar and bass tone drop out without warning and give way to an a cappella chorale. Just out of nowhere, you know? Because that’s what we do here. Just about the time you get used to it, they blast off into a punk-inspired section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Deep Elm post-punk circa ’05 release. To signal the second verse, they throw in an 8-bit video game noise low in the mix. Not obvious, but totally there. Are you guys reading my mind or something? In short, “Concrete” is almost certainly going to be on my “top songs of the year,” even if it was released three days before 2013 started.

The rest of the five-song release, while not as mind-blowing as “Concrete,” has much to praise. “A Wallflower (The Price of Being)” uses a math-rock-inspired riff as the lead on the track, but wraps it in a warm, friendly guitar tone. It’s dizzying in its execution, and it’s not as sterilized as some technical math rock can become. (This same sort of incredible guitar work appears in the spunky “Euro.”) The bass and drums follow the guitar around, snaking through time changes and mood changes at the guitar’s whim. It all works beautifully. The vocalist is also throwing down the best vocal line outside of “Concrete” while this is all going on. Yes. This band knows what is up when it comes to songwriting.

Steven Hyden suggests in his piece on Muse that we’re headed for “a future where all music sounds like everything at once.” If mind-bending music like New Lungs’ is the result of having all genres accessible to us at all times, I’m all for it. I could use a few more shiver-inducing moments like “Concrete”‘s unexpected chorale in my music-listening life.

cyanmarble

Speaking of “all genres at once,” Swedish spazz-rockers Cyan Marble have dropped a new EP. Maya is almost twenty minutes of frenetic, whiplash-inducing rock spread out over three tunes. Comparisons to the Mars Volta will abound, both for the sky-high vocals and the penchant for pairing absurdly technical sections of math-rock with melodic ideas yanked from every imaginable permutation of rock music. Still, with MV gone, it’s good to see someone carrying on that spazz-rock torch.

If there’s a breakout star of the EP, it’s bassist André Hayrapetian, whose intimidating chops are put front and center in “Purple Testament.” Instead of providing incredible work in the background as he did in previous EP Mirror, Hayrapetian carries the whole 7-minute tune with his rhythmic, melodic riffing. Now that Cyan Marble has established itself with two solid EPs of extremely intriguing rock, I’m interested to see where the muse takes them next. They’ve got the ambition and the chops to create some really incredible things, so we could be in for an impressive ride with Cyan Marble.

Kursed / American Wolf

February 27, 2013

I don’t cover much rock these days. It’s not because I’m anti-rock; it’s just not my primary interest. Since I don’t seek it out, I don’t have a network of rock bands that are passing my name among them (as I do with folk bands). But every now and then a rock album or two crosses my desk that is simply too good to resist.

miaow

Miaow by Kursed is just such an album. The French trio makes rock with the crunch and pop hooks in a strong balance, and the airtight production helps as well: I haven’t heard a set of independent rock tunes sound so clean and tight in a long while. The sound is anchored by stomping guitars and a powerful male vocals that sit nicely between the sky-high tenor of pop-rock bands and the baritone of The National. The vocalist sounds completely comfortable in his own sound, which is an incredibly important and impressive aspect of Kursed’s sound. When he’s singing soaring lines (“Pirate Song”) or sounding ominous (“Tarantino”), he sounds right at home. He struggles a bit when he tries to get overly emotional (“I Feel You”), but there are more hits than misses.

The same can be said for the band: they absolutely crush what they’re good at, and they stick to it most of the time. Dark, pounding rock is where’s it at for them: opener “Tsa Tsa Tsu” is a wiry, riff-driven adrenaline kick, while the buzzy intensity of “Wall” is a remarkable turn for the band. When they get too bluesy, it starts to fall a bit far from the tree: “Movie Star” and “Modern Politician fell a bit too much like Clutch without the intensity. But tunes like “Exam,” which incorporate unique melodies and rhythms into their heavy rock, sell the whole thing excellently.

Miaow by Kursed has some completely dominating tracks when all of their elements are on. They still have some kinks to work out in their sound, but this release proves that they’ve got some really good songs in them, now and in the future.

americanwolf

American Wolf has fewer stomping rock moments in their tunes, hearkening back to old-school Muse’s mix of elegant melodic sections and huge riffs. Myriad also incorporates Radiohead-esque moody sections and Mars Volta-style vocal contributions. The mix comes off surprisingly well: opener “A Dark Matter” fits a heavily patterned guitar work and rhythm synths into the pounding of a hyperactive drummer. The vocalists, pulled far back in the mix, coo and call over the turbulent arrangement, creating a remarkable tension. It’s a pretty powerful opening statement.

Thoughtful, intense arrangements characterize the rest of the album: it’s easy to miss some of the pieces on first glance, but there are touches all throughout for the discerning listener. With diverse influences ranging from math rock (the shiver-inducing middle section of “Mahrz”) to atmospheric downtempo (“Skin Tight”) to acoustic folk (“The Secret to Passing Through”), this fascinating album has surprises galore for someone who likes listening deep in the mix. If you’re a fan of complex rock that rewards multiple listens, Myriad is a strong bet.

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

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