Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Bellfuries / Kyle and the Pity Party

July 29, 2015

bellfuries

The BellfuriesWorkingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.

By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.

kyleandthepityparty

On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.

McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.

It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.

Drift Wood Miracle’s emo-revival offerings are passionate and impressive

June 4, 2014

There’s a lot to be said musically and sociologically about why the emo revival is interesting, but spilling that ink here would do a disservice to Drift Wood Miracle. Even if DWM is the band that has me thinking about it, I think it’s more important to note that this quartet has instrumental chops, songwriting skills, melodic prowess, and the earnest passion to pull it all off. I caught their live show at Kings Barcade last Saturday, and the performance was electric.

The quartet features a relatively traditional setup: two electric guitars, a bass, and a drummer. One of the guitarists and the drummer trade lead vocals, which is only one way the band adds diversity to their set. The band does a great job of covering the acoustic/rock/punk/post-hardcore spectrum, as their set featured highlight moments or songs in each of those genres. They’re comfortable with fragile, gentle emoting and thrashing, technical post-hardcore. “My Condition” handles both extremes with ease, but they can express the emotions on their own as well; “Solum” is a beautiful, tender ballad that sounds like the work of a veteran group of musicians.

It’s one thing to make a racket with walls of amps and speakers, but it’s quite another to resist rock’n’roll and mic your 65-watt amps. The little amps that the members of DWM put on stage thrilled me for a variety of reasons: it nodded to the punk “make do with what you’ve got” ethic, underscores the lack of pretense in the band, shows that the talent here is not just a function of nice equipment/recording, and displays the youth of members. To be this talented while still be in high school is rare indeed.

Many emo bands can be less than energetic live, as the band just stands there. Drift Wood Miracle wasn’t going all Rites of Spring on us, but they definitely showed their passion for the music throughout the set: guitar waving, stomping around the stage, and some passionate jumps (not to be confused with theatrical “rock jumps”) made me feel like I could do more than bob my head to the music. It was a good feeling to watch a band be moved by their own music and then feel the desire to move with it too. This is by no means a new thing–I’ve been moshing and dancing and jumping and bouncing at shows for years. But Drift Wood Miracle got me into it, and that’s a thing worth praising.

Drift Wood Miracle’s rock/punk/emo is impressive and worth checking out. Appropriately, a guy in the audience was wearing a Brand New “Fight Off Your Demons” shirt (The hook in the raw “To Endeavor” contains a modified Brand New quote, even). If you’re into that Brand New/Thursday/early ’00s emo sound, you’ll love Drift Wood Miracle.

Quick Hit: Haverford’s Spirit Bear

January 17, 2014

haverford

I came of age in the early 2000s, when Brand New, Thursday, and Taking Back Sunday were all making hay. I was drawn to Brand New the most, as they tempered their blazing vitriol with (somewhat) nuanced emotionalism. Gosh, those songs still give me shivers.

Anyway, I’ve got a decade-plus crush on emo bands that try to tie artistic ideals to the frantic passion of youth. Haverford‘s Spirit Bear helped me get a fix recently. One need look no further than opener “Anxious,” which turns a quiet, American Football-esque emo-scape into a churning riffer by the end of three minutes. The rest of the album tracks the highs and lows of that sound, full of melodic textures throughout. Fans of emo revivalists Football, Etc. (what is it with football names?) will find much to love here. It’s a beautiful record that doesn’t try to make everything sound exactly perfect, which charms me all the more. You know who you are–go get this.

Change and the modern music landscape

February 3, 2012

The essays in Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs come off gleefully: even when discussing sordid or depressing material, there’s an underlying enthusiasm which I have chalked up to “WHOA, I GET PAID TO WRITE THIS!” His second collection of essays, Eating the Dinosaur, contains a larger number of memorable and insightful pieces than the first book, but it’s not as manic in its style. The excitement of the format has worn off, and now the arguments are foremost instead of the style. Eating the Dinosaur is better, but it’s not as much fun as the first one. This is very nearly the same situation that Cosmonauts find themselves in with The Demise of Daniel Raincourt.

The Cosmonauts’ previous EP The Disfiguration of Emily Malone established the central part of a story that the new one starts and finishes. Emily Malone is a hyperactive blast of My Chemical Romance-esque rock, complete with huge riffs and hooky vocal melodies. If it’s the middle of the story, then the whole tale is a crescendo to and decrescendo from the center: Daniel Raincourt is a more calculated, atmospheric take on Cosmonauts’ sound.

The five songs contained in this EP espouse songwriting that gives the instruments a great more breathing room. “The Slow Decay” has a preamble that goes on for 1:28; “Emily’s Surprise” is introduced by a forlorn guitar line and strings. The predominant emotion of the tunes is not adrenalized passion, but brooding.

The songs doesn’t stray too far from the previously established sound, but there’s a definite emotive shift that precludes the “BURYMEBURYMEBURYMEBURYME!” bravado of previous work. Even the upbeat Latin rhythms and sounds of “The Heritage Day Parade” manage to sound ominous (the roared vocals in this particular tune help, of course). This isn’t to say these songs don’t rock; it’s merely that the point of reference is different. These songs sound more like No Devolucion-era Thursday than MCR.

As a full album, the tunes of the previous EP would compliment these to complete a wide, satisfying range of moods. The idea of producing a concept album over three releases (two EPs and a vinyl) is the sort of ambition and forward-thinking that I love to see in bands; a) for even attempting a concept album, and b) for acknowledging the fact that distribution models are changing. This alone is enough to praise.

The songs deserve their props as well, especially the genre-morphing of “The Heritage Day Parade”; the growth in depth to Cosmonauts’ songwriting suggests a dedication to craft. Although I miss some of the ecstatic chord mashing of the previous EP, the change is good. Bands that change survive and thrive, while bands that stay static get tossed aside quicker than ever in this day and age. The Demise of Daniel Raincourt establishes Cosmonauts as a thoughtful, engaged rock band on both the musical and business fronts.

Keeps' songwriting carries a torch for thoughtful rockers

December 4, 2011

I’ve been a fan of Josh Ramon’s work since 2006, when I discovered his bands Theanti and Lamps on the label Inderma Music; I liked them so much that it appears I reviewed their Dot With a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP twice. (I liked it more the second time, apparently.)

Ramon is back with one old and one new collaborator as Keeps, and the band’s sophomore album No Bridges has been keeping me off-guard for the last few weeks. Ramon and co. are comfortable playing both improvised indie-rock and the traditional, song-based variety, and Keeps is the latter: The arrangements are comparatively tight and song lengths hover around four minutes. The big difference from then to now is the weight of the songs.

The band still has elements of their erratic, spontaneous self of old, but No Bridges incorporates those elements into thoughtful songwriting and deft atmosphere control. Excellent use of abrupt entries and exits makes opener “Cantland” and closer “Arkansas Blackbird” into the highlights they are: sections roil and churn in guitar sludge, only to snap into wiry riffs before blasting off to more sections of rock. The forlorn guitars/distant vocals/pounding drums outro of “Arkansas Blackbird” is one of the more haunting ends to an album I’ve heard this year, especially since it appears suddenly.

There are some songs of both sides of the spectrum: “Midwest Urn” is a raging rocker that makes me think of the thoughtful anger of late ’90s and early 2000s post-hardcore. But even that song has a slow section toward the end before picking up for the conclusion. “Someone Wanted More” is a pensive, acoustic-led post-rock-type piece, albeit with some distortion and dissonance thrown in to keep the vibe going.

No Bridges works better as a whole album, like the aforementioned late ’90s post-hardcore and similar-era math rock. I didn’t really listen to music in theose genres for particular songs: I listened for how the music felt and made me feel. (This is the argument Chuck Klosterman makes for ’80s metal, and, by extension, pretty much all music in Fargo Rock City.) Post-hardcore’s aesthetic of getting the emotion down instead of being technically perfect is big here as well; Ramon’s oft-desperate, impassioned voice is a great emotive vehicle. He ekes out some memorable melodies (“Arkansas Blackbird”), but the more important thing is that it all sounds slightly unhinged (the ironically titled “Stayble,” “Old Tangled”). Whether leading with an acoustic guitar melody, an erratic guitar line or churning distortion, No Bridges seems teetering over the edge of something.

Keeps’ No Bridges reminds of the early 2000s, when dark, heavy, thoughtful rock was trying to maintain artistic integrity by staving off those who would turn it into emotionally abrasive hardcore, simplify it into pop-punk, or become whatever Brand New is now. But the “everybody else” sides of the sound won, leaving pretty much only Thursday to carry the flag for thoughtful, aesthetically-refined rockers. Keeps does not sound like Thursday, nor does Keeps have a telegraphed political bent. However, the aesthetic ideals seem correlated, and it’s really encouraging to hear Keeps go to bat for loud, intricate, thoughtful rock without pretension, irony or coat-tailing in some other genre. Highly recommended.

Download “Someone Wanted More.”
Download “Its Hard when Its So Easy.”

Proof that The Felix Culpa is Alive and Kicking

September 29, 2009

In terms of what you should play to get famous as a band, The Felix Culpa wins. In terms of what you should do to get famous as a band, they have failed miserably. They released their first album Commitment in 2004. It was generally heralded as awesome by people like Alt Press, PunkNews.org and (yes) Independent Clauses. They followed it up in 2006 with an EP/DVD set (Thought Control), which was again met with raves. They then promised a full-length album, which had everyone in the scene drooling (yes, including us). Continue readingProof that The Felix Culpa is Alive and Kicking…

Hopes and Dreams dashed on the rocks

April 14, 2009

In a world full of Fall Out Boys, emo bands and imitators, the first several measures of Faster Faster’s Hopes and Dreams show that this band has done next to nothing to change that world.

Faster Faster brings nothing new or interesting to the table of bubble gum pop rock. This is everything you would expect – high-toned vocals that try to sound happy when the lyrics are about immature teenage love with song titles that try too hard to be clever. If you’ve ever listened to Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Armor For Sleep or any of the other number of bands with similar sounds, you know what to expect.

The musicianship at work is good. The group is obviously more than capable of playing their instruments well. Randall Dowling and Christian Mosely are both obviously adept guitarists, able to fill the gaps between vocals with compelling hooks. The bass and drums tend to take a backseat, the bass more so than the drums. Vocalist Kyle Davis is a mixed bag. He obviously has a strong set of pipes, but his style ends up sounding like an odd fusion of Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly and it doesn’t come off well. It just sounds derivative.

The main problem with Hopes and Dreams is that it just doesn’t seem to show any originality. It’s not that these guys are necessarily a bad group of musicians, it’s just that they’re sticking too much to their influences. Faster Faster simply comes off sounding like a good cover band than a band in its own right, which is simply unfortunate.

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

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