Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Barry's folk incorporates humor and indie-rock elements

July 15, 2011

Barry (three dudes, not one guy) is a folk trio that ate an indie-rock band whole and had a comedian for dessert. Still, their songs are more firmly entrenched in the folk tradition than most new folk artists, in that I can see “Drink One More” being covered to the point that no one remembers who actually wrote it.

Even though “For Your Own Good” has harmonica, acoustic guitar and tom-heavy drumming, the vocals contribute the twitchy energy of a Titus Andronicus or Replacements song. The bowed stand-up bass of “Carnival(e)” contributes to the dark, pulsing Modest Mouse feel. The aforementioned “Drink One More” has a lot ripped from the indie-pop camp: melodies, background vocals, synths (yes, airy synths).

And that comedian’s streak? The title track is a a cappella foot-stomper about how they are tired from not sleeping enough. Not even kidding. It’s hilarious, in that they not only thought it was a good idea, they made it the title track. Rock that.

In fact, it’s the straight folk/country tunes that fare worst, as “Three Years in Carolina” and “Love Something Too Much” don’t match up to the engaging, entertaining amalgam of the other tunes. They aren’t bad, they’re just totally faceless. “Great Unknown” barely avoids this fate due to a nice set of lyrics and a dramatic vocal performance, but it’s still a bit too long at five minutes.

That’s an argument that can be levied at all of the songs, actually; most hang out around the five-minute mark, with only the 48-second title track as an outlier. “For Your Own Good” is close to four, and it’s a solid length.

Is it any surprise that the tracks that seem least serious are the winners, or that they’re the ones that incorporate the extra-folk-ular influences? That comedian’s streak runs deep, and it’s important to the success of Barry’s Yawnin’ in the Dawnin’. Here’s to hoping they keep bein’ chilled out incorporators of good influences into folk structures. Can we get these guys on tour with O’Death? Or maybe Avett Brothers? Thanks, justice.

Only Thieves write heartfelt, upbeat rock on "Heartless Romantics"

March 29, 2011

Oklahoma can’t seem to shake winter off my back (low of 38? When does the “out like a lamb” part get here?), but Only Thieves are certainly doing their best to bring summer my way with their album Heartless Romantics. The band’s jubilant, overclocked rock’n’roll harnesses crashing guitars, towering drums and passionate hollering into a barely contained boil. These are the type of songs sound 85% better with the windows down.

“Discoveries” has a buzzing riff that interlocks neatly with a drum pattern, and the same is true for “All the Sad Young Men.” The former eschews any hint of subtlety and just throws down for the entire song. The latter sets up the verses so the chorus is a payoff.”Pioneer Repair” shows a more pensive side that almost recalls Bloc Party, but the raw vocals invade the space and create a distinctly Only Thieves song.

The title track is a pensive piano rumination, which is somewhat surprising and somewhat not. It doesn’t feel like Only Thieves really mean it when they’re snide; it feels like they’re hiding their wounded hearts in layers of sneer and stomp. “Heartless Romantic” pulls back the veneer and displays the wounds that power the rest of these tunes. It even drops in a heartrending voicemail message from an ex. Somehow, it transcends cliche and becomes gorgeous.

Only Thieves know how to write guitar-centric upbeat rock. It’s not power-pop — it’s way heavier than The Cars or the Replacements — but it hearkens to that time period. If you get your rock on with huge, bright guitar riffs and sing/screaming till your voice hurts while driving around in the country, this one’s for you.

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

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