Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Young Mister: Breezy, expansive, and effortless

August 10, 2016

youngmister

Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism was an important guide in my transition from pop-punk to indie-rock (and then, via “Passenger Seat,” to acoustic music). I pulled it out earlier this summer to find that it sounds more like a pop-rock record than I remember. The songs are in no way diminished, but they feel noisier than I wanted them to be–I was looking for the distinctively indie-pop set of aesthetics (soft sounds, crisp edges, less clang, more clatter). But it’s an indie-pop-rock record, probably one of the best. We can get into a discussion of power-pop (early Weezer) vs. indie-pop-rock (Tokyo Police Club), but the point is that Young Mister‘s self-titled indie-pop-rock record feels like the direct successor to Gibbard et al’s masterpiece work, from its breezy California milieu, expansive take on indie-pop, and straightforward-yet-arresting lyrics.

Young Mister blasts put of the starting gate with “The Best Thing,” where Stephen Fiore marshals a sunshiny a.m. radio guitar radio riff, bouncy bass, and wryly honest vocal delivery to apologize for oversleeping his girlfriend’s hour of need: “I heard your car stalled on the interstate / I hope you got where you were going.” The chorus is a bubble of air breaking the surface, a rush of horns and lightness after the restrained verses. “Would It Kill You” and “Pasadena” continue this chipper, breezy pop vibe; the tunes pop out of the speakers with clarity and confidence. The deft hand with which oft-subtle musical and emotional shifts is handled shows Fiore as a songwriter with great skills. The shifts also echo the great sweeps of “Tiny Vessels,” “We Looked Like Giants,” and even “Transatlanticism” itself.

Elsewhere the tunes tend toward the expansive rather than the speedy, just as in its predecessor album: “Sound of Settling” is the single, but “Title and Registration” is the home base. Fiore gives “Would It Kill You” and “Take Me Away” some edge to keep things fresh into the album’s depths, but the composure of quieter tunes like “American Dream Come True,” “Carolina,” and “Everything Has Its Place” makes them shine brightest. “American Dream Come True” is a mid-tempo pop song with beautiful guitar work, a lovely vocal performance, and a devastating lyrical turn. It recalls Fountains of Wayne’s more pensive work. “Carolina” is a rueful, mourning break-up tune, wishing a lost lover the best. The sonic palette isn’t that different from “American Dream,” but the distinctive, anthemic chorus moves it into “songs other people might want to cover” territory. Dropping everything to its bare bones,”Everything Has Its Place” creates a floating world couched in delicate reverb, very precise melodies, and a deep sense of romanticism. It’s as if the sparseness of “Lightness” and the emotional ballast of “Transatlanticism” were merged into one daydreamy tune.

The lyrical punch of “American Dream Come True” is not an isolated incident: Fiore is an excellent lyricist. He’s as comfortable singing about “the fucked-up systems that failed you now” (“Would It Kill You”) as he is petitioning Christ for grace (“Carolina”) and sighing at the incredible effort of dating when you’re not in your early ’20s anymore (“Take Me Away,” “Anybody Out There”). His turns of phrase are clever, his topics are more than your standard stock, and his work is highly polished. But the lyrics don’t stray into the esoteric or the hyper-specific; he grounds his lyrics firmly in well-observed and carefully described experience. It’s the rare indie-pop-rock album that can add to the quality of the album with the lyrical effort, but Fiore has certainly done that here.

Young Mister is so carefully and meticulously crafted that it doesn’t show any of the seams. An immense amount of effort went into making indie-pop-rock songs that sound effortless and natural. You can sing along with these songs, write the lyrics on your bedroom wall, or just let the experience wash over you–all the things that my friends and I did with Transatlanticism. Whatever you choose to do, you should start by giving the album a thorough listen. Fans of pop music won’t be disappointed. I’ll be spinning this one for a long time. Highly recommended.

Early June MP3s: 1

June 1, 2016

1. “The Road” – John John Brown. It’s an impressive skill to breathe fresh vitality into musical staples. John John Brown makes a beautiful concoction out of folk fingerpicking, sawing fiddle, and gentle tenor vocals.

2. “Does She” – Caroline Lazar. Someday I’ll get tired of a thumping kick drum under a fingerpicked acoustic guitar line, but not today: Lazar’s folk pop is bright, charming, and fun (handclaps!).

3. “Offering” – Mischief Night. The recording style on this acoustic track makes it feel both cavernous and intimate; the vocals soar in the near distance, while the drums and casio tones are close at hand. The lyrics are intriguing, as well.

4. “I’m Not the Good One” – Ossayol. The delicate fingerpicking is perfectly counterpointed by a violin throughout. The chorus here just nailed me to the wall with its emotive power.

5. “Christine” – Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls. An ode to beautiful young women who grow old that balances rueful, pensive concern with an internal energy which pushes the track forward.

6. “Lucid Dreams” – Ego Death. A trembling, quiet performance that evokes solitude.

7. “We Both Know” – Andrew Butler. The pristine, precise arrangements of Andrew Bird, but now with significantly more emotions in the lyrics and vocal delivery.

7. “No God in Mexico” – Danny Whitecotton. Danny Whitecotton is continuing the long tradition of windswept, wide-screen folk troubadour storytelling with political undertones admirably. The sound itself is along the lines of Isbell’s quieter stuff instead of being a folk strumfest.

8. “Liars” – Gregory Alan Isakov. Isakov has expanded from his intimate, cryptic tunes of yore to being back by the Colorado Symphony on this tour-de-force. (The lyrics are still enigmatic in an evocative way.)

9. “Single” – Frith. The walking-speed tempo and distinctive melodic percussion sound of this comfortable, easygoing pop track give it a pleasant “Someone I Used to Know” feel.

10. “Zen Jam” – Joyriot. The title works: the tension between zen and joy is in full display on this mid-’00s indie-pop-rock track. There’s some Tokyo Police Club in there, maybe some Vampire Weekend, but all filtered through a chill, maybe even Death Cab-esque lens. Totally cool.

11. “Dance With Love” – Sam Joole. Joole forgoes his usual reggae vibes for Strokesian early ’00s indie-rock, complete with tambourine, distinctive strumming pattern, and slightly distorted vocals. It’s a blast.

12. “719 Desire Street” – Palm Ghosts. Jangle rock never dies, it just fits itself into the modern paradigm and moves on right along. This one’s a fun, sway-inducing, smile-creating song.

13. “Ten Lines (The Land Below Remix)” – MISSINCAT. I kept expecting this song to do stereotypical pop song things, and it always seemed to have a different corner for me to turn. Mad props for the unexpected in electro-pop.

May Singles: Summer

May 1, 2016

1. “Swimming” – Marsicans. This song dropped April 22, and summer officially started the instant it did. It’s all the best parts of The Vaccines, Vampire Weekend, Tokyo Police Club, and The Drums thrown into one indie-pop-rock amalgam. As a result, Marsicans have created one of the most exciting singles of the year so far, if we judge by the amount of spontaneous dancing it has inspired in me. Totally looking forward to more from Marsicans.

2. “Going Going Gone” – Bows. One summer of my life is captured in the memory of Chairlift’s “Bruises,” which I spun a lot. “Going Going Gone” has that same sort of effortless charm, breezy songwriting, and hooky melodies, so I expect to find this one on my summer playlists a lot.

3. “Love Will Come Back to You” – Two Year Vacation. A sunny, electro-pop tune anchored by a whistling melody (or a whistling-esque synth) and a buoyant sense of summeriness.

4. “Martyrs” – Living Decent. The mixing work here keeps everything in this pop-punk-inspired indie-rock tune feeling open and airy. Vic Alvarez’s vocals mesh neatly with a chiming lead guitar to create a mature yet smile-inducing track.

5. “Last Forgiven” – Luke Rathborne. That snappy snare sound just makes me want to hit the road and roll down the windows. The yelpy vocal melodies and handclaps make me want to sing and clap and have fun right along with Luke. A great summer jam.

6. “Pasadena” – Young Mister. A song about California that sounds just about as bright and shiny as California. If you were a Phantom Planet / The OC person, this one’s for you.

7. “Vampires” – Spine of Man. Beachy, yacht-y, ’80s-inspired indie-pop that’s heavy on reverb, baritone vocals, and the best type of nostalgia.

8. “Squeeze” – Foxall. This is the friendly type of folk punk: the “everyone gather round the guitar” vibe spills out of the speakers. I can hear this being played around a fire on a summer evening at a campsite somewhere.

9. “Barcelona” – TRY. Ah, Spain, another of the iconic Summer destinations. The chorus of this indie-pop-rock jaunt includes a breezily sung “Bar-ce-loooooooo-na,” which is just perfect for the city and the carefree, jetsetting vibe of this song.

10. “Things That Get Better” – Boy on Guitar. This female-fronted acoustic indie-pop tune is one for the pessimists: the lyrics marvel at the fact that things have gone well. Walking-speed accompaniment and floating background vocals round out this lovely track.

11. “Fountain of Youth” – Shapes on Tape. Will we see a resurgence of wah-guitar funk and pop now that Prince has left us? If so, Shapes on Tape are at the front edge of the curve with a funky electro jam, complete with guitar reminiscent of Prince’s work. (Or maybe we’re all just thinking more about Prince these days.)

12. “Circadian Rhythm (Edit)” – I.W.A. The tension between cosmic-sounding pad synths that open this and the thrumming synths that follow it set up this chillwave electronic tune excellently. It’s reminiscent of Teen Daze’s best work: melodic, evocative, and interesting without going maximalist.

Mid-April MP3s: Pop

April 15, 2016

1. “Whistling Your Name” – Cadence Kid. Even in the inundated field of electro-pop, some things still stand out: Cadence Kid’s staccato opening synth salvo here grabs attention, and the chorus solidifies the interest.

2. “Are You Real” – The Gifted. There’s some seriously funky bass lines going on in this otherwise smooth electro-pop jam. Happy Friday.

3. “Never Gonna Learn” – Ded Rabbit. The Vaccines + Tokyo Police Club = “Never Gonna Learn.”

4. “Hello, N.S.A.” – Rock, Paper, Cynic. A hilarious power-pop parody of a love song (and of our current political state) that chooses as its object of affection the National Security Agency. To catch the attention of the beloved, RPC mentions just about every potential word and phrase that might catch the attention of the agency. Don’t try this at home?

5. “Chasers” – The Academic. The Academic continues that never-ending stream of UK outfits keeping that guitar-rock dream alive, following Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, and the like.

6. “Downstairs” – Castlebeat. The helter-skelter guitar of hyperactive indie-rock meets the drum machines and synths of ’80s new wave to create an oddly dancy, fun track that seems familiar in all the right ways.

7. “Why” – Amongst All. Brash, upfront pop-punk in the early ’00s style: “Feeling This”-era Blink and the like. If you love new bands that take you on memory trips without being derivative or boring, this track should push the buttons for you.

8. “Derby Girl” – The James Rocket. Jangly, ’90s-style indie-rock that sounds more like indie-pop today. Whatever name you call it, it’s quirky, jumpy, and fun. TJR is the sort of band that good-naturedly makes self-deprecating Guided By Voices jokes.

9. “Decisions” – Fire Hot Opera.  I don’t usually cover this sort of funky, soulful work, but there’s something electric about the combination of vocalists, the jazz-inspired instrumentation, and the energy of the track that just draws me in.

10. “JAKL” – Bellwire. Slacker rock has never sounded so tight and fresh: Bellwire manages to sound both immaculately put together in the arrangement and lovably shambolic in the lyrics and vocal performance. Radness.

11. “Holiday (Feat. Caroline Mauck)” – Don’t Chase Felix. Sometimes you just need a breezy, sunny, lovely pop song about going on holiday. Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

Everything Else, Mid-November Version

November 20, 2015

1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.

2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.

3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.

4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.

5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.

6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.

7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…

8. LA Takedown – LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.

9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.

10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.

11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.

12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.

13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.

Mid-October Pop

October 20, 2015

Pop

1. “Run With Me” – Heather LaRose. A great pop song that has that Imagine Dragons / Magic Giant / Lumineers type of enthusiasm tinged with minor-key drama. You’ll be humming this one.

2. “New Minuits” – Tri-State. This low-slung rock tune escaped from some preternaturally chill realm: it’s smart, cool, moody, lyrically clever and vocally impressive without breaking a sweat.

3. “Nothing to Say” – WOOF. THAT BASS LINE. (Also, this a burbling, frenetic, arpeggiator-decorated mid-’00s indie-pop-rock tune. Tokyo Police Club would be proud.) SERIOUSLY THOUGH. THAT BASS.

4. “Take Me To a Party” – Sweet Spirit. “I’ve got a broken heart / so take me to a party” hollers the lead female vocalist over energetic, fractured rock music that sounds suitably unhinged.

5. “Corduroy” – Redcast. Gosh, there’s just something irresistible about a fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed pop-rock group with equal parts Beatles, twee indie-pop, and The Cars references.

6. “Soldiers” – Swim Season. Everything about this track makes way more success when you realize that it’s about to be summer in the band’s native Australia. This summery electro-rock jam slinks, sways and swaggers its way into your ears.

7. “Movies” – Captain Kudzu. Meticulous slacker pop seems like a paradox, but Captain Kudzu’s carefully crafted tune here sounds excellently like it’s not trying too hard. Foresty, moody vibes track with the easiness, making it an intriguing song.

8. “Captive” – WYLDR. Temper Trap + Passion Pit + a dash of Colony House = radio gold.

9. “Every Day” – Dream Culture. Here’s a funky psych-rock nugget with one foot firmly in the ’70s and one in outer space. The tension between grounded riffing and free-floating atmosphere pulls at each other in all the right ways.

10. “Hey Little League” – Michael Daughtry. John Mayer’s suave alt-pop touch collides with some tight ’90s pop-rock vibes to turn out this tune.

11. “Time to Share” – Model Village. Grows from a delicate pop tune to a surprising, swirling post-disco tune without ever losing a gentle touch.

12. “You Have Saved Our Lives, We Are Eternally Grateful” – Wovoka Gentle. Chiming voices float over shape-shifting synths, bouncy guitars, and an overall joyous mood. It’s kind of like a female-fronted Freelance Whales, only weirder in the best possible way.

MP3s: Upbeat Indie-Rock

September 25, 2015

Upbeat Indie-rock

1. “Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music. Is this indie-rock? Post-rock? Electronica? All of the above? All I know is that this gorgeous track is one of my favorite songs of the year.

2. “Our Little Machine” – Last Good Tooth. The lyrics here sound straightforward till you read them a second time; the dense, melodic sounds here are similarly deceptive, unveiling their details as you listen repeatedly.

3. “The Closing Door” – LVL UP. Balances Weezer-esque guitar-wall crunch with “aw, shucks,” nose-in-a-book indie-pop for a unique, pleasant tension.

4. “Brother in Arms” – Annabelle’s Curse. The smooth easiness of indie-pop meets the complexity of indie rock while the spectre of alt-country hangs over it all. Taking the best of multiple genres and creating something new is a worthy goal, and Annabelle’s Curse knocks it out of the park here with a great tune.

5. “Modern Language” – Postcards from Jeff. Intertwined flute and guitar open this nearly-seven-minute indie-rock title jam from PfJ’s new record. It’s the sort of arrangement that balances delicate sounds with the drum-forward enthusiasm that makes a great live track.

6. “Answered Prayers” – Terribly Yours. This quirky indie-pop tune includes the fattest bass sounds and thickest groove I’ve heard in the genre this side of Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” The song floats along like a tropical breeze on a vacation where you’re really and truly not worrying about going back to work.

7. “New Colors” – Kennan Moving Company. Sometimes you need that blast of horns in your life, no matter if you’re a soul tune or a pop-rock tune (as this one is).

8. “Glory Days” – 1955. The high-drama indie-rock (equal parts early ’00s Hives, early ’00s Elbow, and Cold War Kids) is perfectly tuned to be in one of those adventure-laden Heineken ads (and their spin-offs–what’s up with those Kohler ads?). In other words, it’s the sort of way-too-cool thing you want to score your life’s soundtrack.

9. “Swings & Waterslides” – Viola Beach. Straddling the line between Hot Chelle Rae’s radio-pop-rock and Tokyo Police Club’s left-field take on the same, this tune pushes all the right buttons.

10. “Porch” – Long Beard. All emo-inflected indie-rock bands want to sound effortlessly nostalgic, but few of them hit the mix of guitar tone, vocal reverb, walking-speed energy, and gentle melodicism.

11. “Mamma’s Gotta Secret” – Them Vibes. Rootsy rock with enough ’70s vibes to keep things unusual.

12. “New Vibration” – ALL WALLS. Grumbling guitar distortion and a chiming guitar riff collide with falsetto “oohs” to make a funky/poppy/fun track that would make Prince jealous.

13. “Rock N Roll Disco” – James Soundpost. Do you need a primer in how to write timeless pop-rock music? If so, listen to this tune and learn how to write a no-nonsense guitar line, sing a catchy hook, and rip off a guitar solo. Rad.

June Electro Drop

July 2, 2015

1. “Take a Dive” – By Day By Night. Big, friendly synth-pop that’s a mix between M83 dusky drama and Chad Valley exuberance.

2. “You’ve Got Somethin‘” – Air Bag One. I don’t know if it’s just my vantage point, but it seems like we’ve moved from big synth-centric ’80s jams to big vocal-centric ’80s jams. If so, Air Bag One is on point with this tune.

3. “Time (feat. La Petite Rouge)” – Haring. Wavering chillwave synths create a blissful mood before a neat and tidy beat comes in to give the song motion and structure. It grows from there, without ever overwhelming the initial mood. Beautiful.

4. “A Berry Bursts” – Twin Hidden. This enthusiastic, difficult-to-classify track sits somewhere between gentle indie-pop, low-key electro, and Tokyo Police Club’s giddy pop-rock attack. It’s way fun, whatever it is.

5. “Kangarang” – Casual Strangers. This psych-rock tune explores the more ambient, experimental, almost electronic vibes of the genre–eschewing huge guitars for a deep groove, this song is a burbling, thoughtful instrumental jam.

6. “Start Again (ft. Amy)” – Stefansson. I can’t resist an EDM song that is tasteful and restrained with the more stereotypically brash audio elements of the genre.

7. “Lackluster No.” – Nova Heart. A stark, sparse landscape gives way to an elegant, pristine, magnetic body of the song. It fuses electronic elements and live bass in a surprising way. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

8. “World Government” – Heptagon Heaven. Do you need six minutes of arpeggiated synths, great sound washes, and general “cool” vibe? Of course you do.

9. “Indian Summer” – Jai Wolf. The stuttering optimism of Gold Panda fused to ODESZA’s artsy, high ideals post-dub makes for a deeply impressive track.

Whoa there, Captain (Baby)

June 13, 2014

captainbaby

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Captain Baby combines Indian vocal stylings, Bloc Party’s guitar rhythms, and LCD Soundsystem’s rubbery bass. Sugar Ox opener “I Say You” features songwriter Asher Rogers singing in a lilting, soaring, Indian-inspired vocal line over LCD’s signature thrum-thrum-thrum bass line and some twinkly guitar work, creating a haunting yet still comforting mood. It’s difficult to imagine those two moods together, but it’s difficult to imagine Captain Baby’s music (unless you’re Asher Rogers, apparently). It’s also difficult to capture in words, so I’m going to keep this short and refer you to the singles.

“Bury Your Head” and single “Forest Charm” pick up the pace with Bloc Party’s helter-skelter drum/bass/guitar style–if you were into Silent Alarm, you’ll find much to love here; Bloc Party also toed that line between tension and catharsis. But where Bloc Party stayed firmly in a “midnight on an urban freeway” vibe, Captain Baby strays into some Of Montreal joy occasionally. The quirky, frenetic songwriting quality of Tokyo Police Club also gets roped in every now and then (second single “Row On”).

It’s a fair bet that when I have this many RIYLs in a review, I’m struggling to encapsulate something truly unique and interesting. Captain Baby displays a vision not often captured with Sugar Ox; what’s even more impressive is that it doesn’t have to dip into the avant-garde to do it. (You can still dance to this!) Sugar Ox is commended to anyone who seeks out adventurous and challenging music that is still fun.

Antarte / Tango in the Attic / The Boxing Lesson

July 9, 2013

oliosutela

Much post-rock goes for the quiet-loud-quiet or quietest-to-loudest methods. Antarte‘s Olio Su Tela doesn’t often do either, preferring to stay in the quiet-to-quiet method most of the time. It would be easy to slap the label ambient on this and go on, but that’s not exactly what’s happening. This is quiet post-rock; music that plays off the assumptions and structures of rock but applies them to different ends. Ambient builds off electronic ideas, of which there are few to none present. Instead, the Italian outfit wrings emotion out of acoustic instruments (as well as the occasional electric guitar) in unusual ways, resulting in atypical beauty.

The band does have crescendoes and diminuendoes; this isn’t a shapeless, formless mass. But these songs don’t reach for the towering rushes of adrenaline like Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky; closer “Controluce” never gets louder than what would constitute the middle of your average post-rock song before concluding. But that doesn’t change how wonderful it sounds. “Cenere” does have a loud section, but it’s a surprise amidst the smooth, gliding bass and guitar lines that this album is full of. It’s what makes both “Cenere” and Olio Su Tela so memorable: it inverts expectations at every turn. This is a beautiful and surprising collection of tunes, and that doesn’t come along too often.

tangointheattic

Every now and then I weary of indie-pop, because it feels like everyone’s just beating a dead horse. But, in 10 years of doing this reviewing thing, someone has always come along to restore my faith in the genre. Tango in the Attic is that band. Their four-song EP Crushed Up takes the pep of Tokyo Police Club and filters it through an offbeat, unusual vision of what indie-rock can be. The result are songs that I can recognize instantly, hum effortlessly, and think about heavily. That’s a pretty good trifecta. The band delivers the goods from opener “Sellotape,” which plays with the stereo feature of my headphones and the joy of seemingly-erratic rhythms, to the extended hazy coda of closer “Crush.”

The Scottish lads’ vision of music is one where artsy collages and poppy melodies share the same space: where chillwave and pop-rock aren’t diametrically opposed, but layered; where inscrutable sections of composition resolve into propulsive, infectious guitar-driven epics. And that’s all in the opener. The incredibly memorable “Easybones” feels like a progressive R&B track before the Tokyo Police Club guitars come bursting in. That section is followed by one that is anchored by marimba. I could go on, but I think you get the point: this is creative, fascinating music that is also good for dancing and singing along with. I highly recommend Crushed Up.

boxinglesson

The Boxing Lesson first endeared themselves to me as a trippy, woozy, psychedelic outfit. They have completely morphed out of that on Big Hits!. Instead of handing out mushrooms, they’re mashing with hammers: the riffs throughout this album are absolutely in keeping with the album title. “Eastside Possibilities” throws down the gauntlet, showing that this trio is about the rock this time around: the big, fat, buzzy, hooky riffs are delicious.

This album is less interested in SanFran guitar-rock scuzz and more about stomping, classic-rock-esque riffs. But this is by no means a Jet album or anything: this is a profoundly modern record that happens to have huge guitars dominating it in the best way. “Tape Deck Time Machine” is a charger that gives the drummer a workout; “Better Daze” allow aliens to descend for 39 seconds before powering into a swaggering, chunky riff. The guitarwork on “Red River Blues” sounds like the inverse of the riff from “Better Daze,” and it’s totally awesome. The whole album is full of dark, huge guitars, and it’s just a ton of fun. The notable exceptions: 9-minute opener “Endless Possibilities,” which has a dreamy feel and an orchestra backing it up, and “Breezy,” which is a pop/rock tune that is exactly what the title suggests (especially in contrast to the rest of the “dim streetlights/aliens/danger” vibe). Both are cool additions to the album, instead of being detractors, which is a job well done all around.

If you’re into big, dark guitars; rock moves; and lots of hooky melodies from the instruments and vocals, Big Hits! should be on your to-do list. I really enjoy it, and that’s from a guy who doesn’t cover much rock at all (because I got bored of it). So this one’s a pretty strong recommendation.

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

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