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Underlined Passages: Rainy Day Indie-rock

May 21, 2015

underlinedpassages

While Underlined Passages’ self-titled release is a debut, my roots with the band go back deeper. The two principal band members were formerly in The Seldon Plan, a Baltimore indie-rock band that I started reviewing in 2006. After some time off, Michael Nestor and Frank Corl have regrouped as Underlined Passages. Their debut release is on Mint 400 Records (a connection I helped make), and their rainy-day indie-rock fits perfectly with other M400 bands like the Maravines and the Sink Tapes.

The nine songs of Underlined Passages sport various amounts of energy, but each have some sense of melancholy about them. Even when the drums are thrashing away and the guitars are chiming wildly on “Magic, Logic, Life,” Nestor’s vocals are bereft of aggression. The guitar arpeggios and slow pace of “It’s Ok” are more stereotypically melancholy, with emotively-driven lyrics, mournful melodies, and a warm sense of nostalgia/affection. There’s a lot of emotion in these songs, but it never goes over-the-top; like so much on this album, it just fits.

Considering the emotive push, Underlined Passages could definitely hang with the emo revival bands: the one-two punch of opener “Perspective” and “Every Night” are right there with Football, Etc. in aesthetic similarity. But for the most part, Underlined Passages doesn’t have the brash, punchy aspect that many emo bands inherit from their punk roots. These are earnest, passionate, mid-tempo songs for grey days. You don’t have to look farther than the swirling “Sonata” and the intimate “Like 2009” to get where Nestor and Corl are coming from.

Underlined Passages is an excellent companion on a rainy day. The melancholy arrangements, the hooky melodies, and nostalgic overall mood invite you to curl up under a blanket and watch the rain come down. If you’re looking for some moody, earnest indie-rock today, look no farther.

February Singles: Pop, Light and Dark

March 11, 2015

Pop, Light and Dark

1. “Just What I Needed” – Wonderful Humans. Whatever the opposite of “reign of terror” is, WH is on that path. Their seemingly endless stream of high-energy, ’80s-inspired dance-pop singles continues with this tropical track.

2. “Summertime” – Ships Have Sailed. ShS are also on a hot streak: this latest tune is some combination of the Cars and All-American Rejects.

3. “Eternal Sunshine” – Memoryy. Yep, you can hook me with any invocation of steel drums. (They’re just so happy!) The rest of the track besides the chorus splits the difference between nu-disco and glitchy clicking–always fun.

4. “Too Damn Good” – JOA. The inimitable Jesse Owen Astin is back to making guitar-rock/electro-pop mini epics, and this one is a builder that grows to a huge apex and then fades away.

5. “She Speaks the Wave” – The Nursery. This song would have fit right in on radio when Interpol, The Killers, and The Bravery were all towering. Some real sleek, solid dance-rock here.

6. “Drive” – Ships Have Sailed. You know when Jimmy Eat World goes for a ballad but still gotta have the angsty energy? Ships Have Sailed power through this track with that same feel.

7. “Tears” – Prints. Dark, clubby electronic pop songs.are a dime a dozen, but Prints float above the pack by balancing your emotional needs with your club needs.

8. “Earth Not Above” – HÆLOS. Cinematic, evocative trip-hop mixed with some modern beats? Sign me up.

9. “Underlined Passages From Your Books” – Underlined Passages. Here’s some lush, walking-speed romance from members formerly of indie-rockers The Seldon Plan. Combining early ’00s indie-pop melodies with early ’00s emo guitar tone is a sweet spot these days.

Post-Copeland?: The Knitted Cap Club and The Seldon Plan

May 29, 2013

antidote

Is Copeland enough of a legend that I can use them as a touchstone referent for other bands, three years after they’ve broken up? I hope so, because that’s the band that I thought of when I was listening to these two EPs.

The Knitted Cap Club‘s three-song The Antidote EP is surprising for several reasons. The first two tracks of the EP are reworked versions of tracks from previous album The Weeping Tree, which I praised as a “stately” and “structured” record. TKCC loosens up some of the formality on the new versions of “Eight Thirteen” and “Tarot Cards and Tea Leaves,” allowing for more flowing, emotive takes on the tunes. The latter really shines, as the airy, gentle energy of the track calls up those Copeland references.

The title track expands on TKCC’s previous sound by adding piano and electric guitar into the mix. The drums give a loose sway to the song, and that mood stands in stark contrast to the very structured rhythms and tones of The Weeping Tree. Meagan Zahora’s vocals retain their classy quality while allowing a little more spontaneity and passion into her measured delivery. I think the new approach works wonderfully, and I look forward to hearing more songs in this vein from the band.

seldonplan

The Seldon Plan’s That Time You Dreamed [EP] is quite appropriately titled, as it calls to mind the way that Copeland could wring rock songs out of hazy, dreamy guitarwork. The songs clamor and clang, but never lose sight of that warm melodic core. From the meandering title track to the heavily rhythmic “Setting the Scene” and perky closer “Revelation 1.0,” the tracks are consistently welcoming. The Seldon Plan has a firm grasp on what they’re trying to accomplish in these nine minutes, and they succeed at those goals. If you’re a fan of dreamy indie-rock circa 2003, you should head on over to The Seldon Plan’s Bandcamp.

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.

Fun, pleasant release from Baltimore’s The Seldon Plan

July 1, 2009

Looking for some indie pop with lush harmonies and a bright sound? Then you’ve come to the right place. The Beechfields, a record label based in Baltimore, Maryland, released The Seldon Plan’s third full-length album earlier this month.

The Seldon Plan’s Lost and Found and Lost is a showcase of melodies easy for the listener to pick up on and enjoy. The album’s opener, “Caldecott,” has punchy verses that lead up perfectly to the slower (but no less catchy) chorus.

The group consists of four members, two of which both provide vocals and play guitar. What is interesting, though, is that one of these singer/guitarists is Dawn Dineen, and her presence adds a lot to the harmonies. The songs that feature her singing lead vocals, like “Fire in Day’s Field,” “Run, Go!” and “See a Word” add a unique aspect to The Seldon Plan’s indie pop. Dineen also has a lower voice than a lot of female singers, and it is steady and easy to listen to.

The only real weakness of Lost and Found and Lost is that some of the songs (“See a Word”) can get a little repetitive, with choruses that are played over again without making any musical changes a few too many times. But this can easily be forgiven because despite the fact that this can get a little annoying, most of the choruses on this album are gosh-darn catchy.

Some of the standout songs on this album are the title track and “Philadelphia and a Moment.” “Lost and Found and Lost” (which is a very cool name, if you ask me) includes irresistible, snappy hand claps (or percussion that at least sounds like hand claps) and a fun keyboard line. “Philadelphia and a Moment” is a bit of an acoustic ballad that picks up the pace and changes toward the middle. Its unique instrumentation, which includes wind instruments, gives “Philadelphia and a Moment” a full feel that nonetheless seems intimate.

The group describes the album’s themes as a story of “expectant hope and recession blues.” The Seldon Plan’s Lost and Found and Lost is recommended for fans of Death Cab for Cutie and The New Pornographers.

The Seldon Plan-Making Circles

April 1, 2006

seldonplanBand Name: The Seldon Plan
Album Name: Making Circles
Best Element: Cohesive flow
Genre: Indie-pop/rock
Website: www.theseldonplan.com
Label Name: OTP Records (www.otprecords.com)
Band E-mail: info’theseldonplan.com

I really like it when a band that has the chops to rock out in a passionate way exercises restraint. It shows maturity on their part, usually produces tight, energetic songs, and makes those times in which they rock out that much more exciting. Throughout Making Circles, the Seldon Plan parades out their pulsing, pumping indie-pop side while hinting at the rock hidden within.

The album starts out on a high note with “A Rhyming Dictionary”. Building off the strength of an ear-catching lead guitar riff and some unique drumming patterns, the song blossoms into an enviable pop/rock song by the time the chorus rolls around. The title track follows, and as it is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album, it serves to ensure that the tight drumming, quirky guitaring, and charming melodies weren’t a fluke on “A Rhyming Dictionary”.

The album mellows from the driving rhythms of the first few tracks, settling into a dreamy, comfortable groove that is retained for most of the album. “Love Again”,  the best track on the album, is right in the center of the album. It starts off with a 1950’s TV or movie sample about boys and girls, then leads into a breezy, upbeat ditty about a girl who falls in love all the time. The final blow is delivered when the sample returns near the end of the song, proclaiming that girls who sleep with all the boys aren’t really popular. The song flows perfectly- an inspired bit of songwriting.

Flow is very important on this album- the album progressively gets softer until the final track “Chicago 2003” is reached. It starts off very soft, but a lot of the smooth dreaminess that characterized the other tracks is gone, replaced with a more potent feel. Instead of being jilted, as much of the album’s lyrical content mulls over, the lyricist has jilted his lover. “You thought I was the one,” he coos, before unleashing the band on a guitar-and-drums-heavy tirade that rocks harder than anything else on the album. This is where the band really shines- where the tension is finally released and the band just goes for it. It’s a great song, second only to “Love Again” as the best on the album. But it’s great because the rest of the album isn’t exactly like it- it’s what I’ve been waiting for the entire album.

The Seldon Plan knows how to write a strong album. Some of the individual songs along the way don’t really stick out when played out of context of the album, but when listened to as a whole, each song works beautifully. This record would be great on vinyl on a grayish day, hanging out with your girlfriend. It’s a great album- doesn’t push any borders or break any boundaries (if they did, this would be a fantastic album), but it’s a great album nonetheless. Highly recommended.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses’hotmail.com

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

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