Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Seldon Plan's mature songwriting creates an impressive listen

January 24, 2011

I’ve never wanted to be in a stadium-booking arena band. I’ve always wanted, had I my dream, to be in a band beloved by an enthusiastic local community, perhaps 150 people. That way they would be able to pack out a small venue and sing along at the top of their lungs. That’s all I really want.

I don’t know if that’s The Seldon Plan‘s goal or not, but they’re the type of band that I’d like to be when I accomplish that dream. They play solid, mature songs that straddle the line between pop-rock and indie-pop; just enough cohesive song structures and production values for the former, just enough wistful moods and slow-building melodies to appropriate the former. This band is full of guys who have tons of experience writing songs (as proven by their previous releases), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had tons of previous bands to their names as well. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it well.

“Fool’s Gold” builds from a kick-snare-kick-kick-snare plod to a whirling, full tune. It’s complex without being complicated, tight without being sterile. The band knows when to let things space out. This discipline gives “Fool’s Gold” and the rest of the tunes here breathing room, which results in a very comfortable listening experience.

The tunes have the kind of cathartic melodies and lyrics that late ’90s “emo” bands like The Promise Ring and Sunny Day Real Estate were trying to capture, but without all the burdensome youthful drama. It has the strong emotive instrumentals that bands like American Football were trying to capture, but without repetitiveness driving the point home. The Seldon Plan trusts its listeners to be like they are: older, well-versed, appreciative of the little things without being told to be so.

That trust makes the background vocals in “Starlette Pendant” great; they appear briefly, quietly, but with meaning. The mix of “Our Time In Rockland County” favors the clanging rhythm guitar over the twinkly lead guitar and ba-ba-ba background vocals, but both hidden elements bring an extra level to the song. Closer “A Letter to Satie” buries a keyboard in the chorus that enhances the mood. Those touches show that these aren’t nice pop/rock tunes; they’re deeply thought-out, planned and organized tunes, which is something much better.

The Seldon Plan’s latest set is easily the best that I’ve heard from them. They’ve grown into a sound and a style that makes the best of their skills and talents. This album is a gem that should not be overlooked by anyone listening for true musicianship and song craftsmanship. I don’t know what their ambitions are, but if they were in my hometown, I’d go see them whenever I could. And I’d sing along.

Contribute to their Kickstarter campaign to make a vinyl of the album here.

Clean but formula release from The City and Skyway

January 16, 2010

As far as experienced lineups go, The City and Skyway seems to have hit the jackpot. Band members have previously played in Dashboard Confessional, Lifetime, Limbeck, The Promise Ring, The Benjamins, and others.

And yet, as the star power doesn’t exactly add up on Everything Looks Worse in Black and White. There are certainly many elements that could create a great album – talented and experienced musicians, tight production and a cohesive sound. But despite having all of these flavorsome ingredients, the result still doesn’t taste quite right. Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that Everything Looks Worse in Black and White is the group’s debut album. With a little more spice thrown into the cooking pot next time, The City and Skyway could really create a stronger release.

The main issue in this album is that while the songs are very consistent, they are so much so that they tend to run together, making it somewhat difficult to distinguish one from another. All, very generally speaking, are electric guitar-driven pop-punk-rock with easy harmonies and predictable choruses that seem to run at extremely similar tempos. Each song on Everything Looks Worse in Black and White could actually sound better on its own instead of being played one after the other as an entire album. This, however, shows how far The City and Skyway could go with their next release.

There is, nonetheless, a lot of good to be heard, too. Drummer Ryan Joyce has some really interesting and unique fills, the harmonies are nicely executed (even if they are kind of conventional), and lead singer Mitch Lyon has the perfect voice for The City and Skyway’s style. If the group takes a few more songwriting risks with their next release, the powerful lineup could really be used to its full potential.

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.

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