The Big Bang Theory is one of the best sitcoms on TV right now because it’s nothing but a sitcom. It has a laugh track, quirky characters, and pretty much one situation for the entirety of its existence. In this era of mockumentary sitcoms, dramedies, and other innovative comedy programming, the best comedy is one that doesn’t break any rules. It just does the old rules really, really well.
Bottle Up and Explode‘s Kingsley is the audio analogue of The Big Bang Theory. Bottle Up plays mid-tempo indie-rock that’s well-informed by ’90s pop and ’00s indie-pop melody structures. There are guitar solos (check it, “We Just Want a Party”), Strokes-ian jangle (“Summer in the South”) and tension-laden sparse sections that recall U2 and Bloc Party (“Breakfast”).
What it all adds up to is “Axiomatic,” which features an upbeat riff and perky drumming overlaid with a twinkly guitar line in the verses before blasting into a synth and “yeahiyeahiyeah!” chorus. It’s the sort of song that you swear you’ve heard before, but know you haven’t. It’s the sort of song that propels an EP to the front page of Purevolume.com.
But the songwriting isn’t the only feature that sets this apart. If a song is one part what you wrote and another how you played it, Bottle Up has both sides covered. The tunes here are pulled off with a swagger that sells it easily. Vocalist Chris Cargile has a voice that conveys emotion and enthusiasm without losing the sense of cool that is fundamental to his timbre and Bottle Up and Explode’s sound. Cargile doesn’t sound disaffected, he sounds measured — excited when it’s exciting, chill when it’s chill. Yes, like the name.
The six-song, seven-track Kingsley (“Axiomatic” gets an acoustic version) is a blast to hear. Bottle Up and Explode is in firm control of its sound, and that allows them to do thingswith it instead of be at its mercy. Summer may be ending, but parties don’t, and I can hear “Axiomatic” at your next (and next and next) shindig. Jump on this.
Out of all the releases in Phratry Week, the most surprising one is Mad Anthony‘s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal, which is actually not speed metal. That would have been somewhat inside Phratry’s considerably varied oeuvre, but instead they throw listeners a loop and release an album by a four-on-the-floor garage rock outfit.
Honestly, the most outsidery thing on the album is the demonic picture on the cover, which is another reason I thought it might actually be Slayer-inspired. Nope. This is every rock band you like. Jim Morrison, Danzig, Toadies, Misfits, Fugazi, Electric Six, The Clash, The Police, new wave, lo-fi, and garage rock all get shout-outs in the press quotes. I have no idea what half of these people are hearing, but that’s the beauty of Mad Anthony (and of rock in general): people hear different parts.
I mostly hear the connections to early 2000s garage rock revivalism, as “Naugahyde” is pretty much a song by The Vines (man, what happened to them?). “Uphill Both Ways” has early Strokes connections, while “Soul” and “Strangest Dream” have a First Impressions of Earth-era sound going on. The roaring, low vocals are chock full of attitude, which only lends credibility to the sound.
These songs are fist-pounding, headbanging rock’n’roll. The melodies are great, the band is tight, and the overall cool is top-notch. Each of these songs stand on their own, but “Beautiful Daughter” and “The Solution to the Indian Problem” rank high in my book. Mad Anthony’s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal does have one thing in common with the rest of the Phratry releases: it’s written by guys who did their homework and are subsequently on top of their game.
Books About UFOs’ Bite Your Tongue is a straightforward, four-on-the-floor garage-rock album. Their brand of rock has more in common with the Hives than the Strokes, as they power their songs with an attitude instead of pop-ready hooks. That’s not to say they don’t have melodies, but opening track “Stop, Look & Listen” wishes death to “arrogant hipsters,” whether “together or alone.” They make it pretty clear what you’re about to get.
The band cranks it out with bass, guitar, drums and attitude-filled howl for the entirety of the album. The bass work of “The Sharks Have Entered the Lagoon” makes it stand out, and the guitar line in “When You Whisper” sets it out of the group as well. Garage rock is not my favorite style, but this is a solid effort.
The members of Built by Animals are either oblivious or completely subversive. The songs on this self-titled EP and the accompanying art absorb or pilfer everything possible from other bands and re-appropriate. The end product of a less talented band would simply be annoying and derivative. But the Brooklyn-based members of Built by Animals are talented, and the four songs shine all the more because of their total hipsterdom or hipster mockery (and I’m leaning toward believing it’s the latter).
Built By Animals’ guitar-based indie-rock is a mix of Phoenix’s herky-jerky melodies and the hyperactive guitar strum of non-First Impressions of Earth Strokes. They aren’t trying to do anything new; they just do it well. The bridge in “Teenage Rampage” has the type of melody and counterpoint that the rest of the song has lead me to want. When they finally drop in the riff, it feels right and satisfying. That’s solid songwriting.
The band is composed of talented musicians, as well as talented songwriters. Bassist Nick Crane shows off his impressive chops with speedy runs in a particularly bouncy section of opener “Return to the Power Kingdom.” The mathy-yet-melodic counterpoint that guitarist Morgan von Ancken intertwines makes “Return to the Power Kingdom” one of the best tracks here. Crane also flexes his melodic muscle in the bass solo (!) in “Ducks.”
The band shows they know how to build tension with the aforementioned “Ducks,” and they show they can make a subdued tune with the Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque “Spreadsheets.” The dry vocal delivery deserves praise on “Spreadsheets,” as it sticks out in a pleasing way.
It’s hard to pick out specific reasons for why I like Built by Animals’ self-titled EP so much. They’re not doing anything even remotely groundbreaking, but they knock the songs out of the park. Their tunes are energetic, melodic and smile-inducing without being saccharine or pandering; it’s hard to knock a band that can pull that off. I eagerly anticipate what Built by Animals will do next; they’ve established a solid foundation and can go in many directions. Onward and upward! For fans of Phoenix, Strokes, The Cribs, Bishop Allen, and other New York guitar-rock bands.
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.