Bear and Moose‘s “Chicagovenient Store” is indie-rock in one of the most old-school ways to envision it. Chronologically post-punk rock’n’roll in the way that the Minutemen were, Bear and Moose feels like it is carrying the torch on the Minutemen’s natural progression from punk’s loud/fast/brash via added lyrical, technical performance, and sonic concerns. Like the Minutemen, Bear and Moose’s lyrics concern political issues; unlike their forbears (who were concerned with America’s relationship to globalization and, in particular, Central American politics), the subject here is American suburban materialism, despondency, and political malaise. We can use more critique on those fronts, for sure.
The wryly amused, satiric vocal delivery contrasts with the perky, skittering music that the duo constructs. The tune opens with a hectic bass line that’s doubled by the guitars–past the intro, the song sways and jolts and tilts as the varied guitar strumming patterns zoom back and forth. The frantic guitar and bass are locked down by a drumbeat that keeps everything in line (and the aforementioned vocalist, who seems content to toss off pronunciations while totally unaffected by all the complexity going on around him). The song threatens to come apart at the seams with all the various melodic lines zinging here and there, but those two elements hold it all together to make a really exciting song.
It’s a bit of controlled chaos, which is a pretty good definition of what I’m looking for in rock music. If I really have to pin a label on it, the guitar tone and the engineering job tie it tenuously to surf-rock and/or garage rock. But I’d rather just let it stand on its own, under that big tent banner of indie-rock.
Yeesh‘s No Problem is the fantastic result of 40 years of rock experimentation. If you scour through the impressive sonic melange of tracks like “Slip,” “Linda Lee,” and “Genesis Pt. 1,” you’ll find traces of (deep breath) Black Flag, the Minutemen, various grunge howlers, Blur, Modest Mouse, The Strokes, The Vaccines, The Pixies, Hot Water Music, The Menzingers, countless unnamed punk bands, and post-rock bands that emphasize the rock. What’s not included might be easier to list than what is. (No reggae or folk, for example.)
This level of sonic re-appropriation and pastiche makes it difficult to review; each song is its own distinct head trip. “Friends/Shadows” is the most frantic Menzingers song never recorded, with a math-rock breakdown for the heck of it. “Different Light” is a mid-tempo singalong made unusual by atypical reverb settings on the guitar; the propulsive “Watch Yr Step” lives on the boundary of punk and post-hardcore. “Zakk Radburn Teenage Detective” starts out with chiming guitars reminiscent of early ’00s indie-pop, then layers the most brutal guitar noise of the entire album on top of it. They never resolve the tension there, instead using it to power some start/stop acrobatics.
Listening to all of No Problem is a mind-bending experience. Yeesh doesn’t see any contradiction in having soaring guitar lines compete with gnarly low-end rhythm guitar (closer “Shock” most prominently, but it’s everywhere); they don’t see any problem in mixing poppy melodies, brute force guitars, polyrhythmic rhythm section, and artistic guitar effects. This kitchen sink approach to songwriting results in something truly inventive and creative: a set of ten songs that kept me guessing the entire time. If you think that complex arrangements can and should be set in the service of pummeling eardrums, No Problem may be high on your year-end list.
It’s rare that a sound punches me in the face, so the opening seconds of The Master Thief‘s “Beethoven by Proxy” were jarring in the best way. The De Kalb three-piece rock band sounds like The Minutemen as filtered through modern indie-rock vocal melodies and structures, and that’s something I can get behind, yo.
They accomplish this feat by having jagged, stiff guitar riffs that bounce all over the place in unexpected ways, held in place by a steady rhythm section. The sung/spoken vocals provide the cherry on top, as they play with the listener’s expectations as well. “Beethoven by Proxy” is the best benchmark of their sound: you’ll know immediately whether you’ll like the rest of Get It While It’s Gaunt by the end of the tune. Now that’swhat an opening track is supposed to do.
The rest of the seven-song EP is a fun trip through a unique sound. “The Master Thief” and “Antsy Nantsy” are continuations of the rock vibe, while “Tank Top” is a slowed-down, poppy take on their angular sound. “Pterodactyls” is an impressive instrumental that allows the guitar to do double duty as rhythmic leader and primary melodist (a role the vocalist often plays). The only misstep is the jokey “Secret Song,” an acoustic song that detracts from the overall effect of the EP (although they do an admirable job of incorporating the angular melodic ideas into an acoustic guitar framework).
Get It While It’s Gaunt is an impressive, attention-grabbing EP. If you’re into mid-’80s/early ’90s indie rock or like angular riffs, The Master Thief will not disappoint.
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.