Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Ampline defies classification with a brilliant, tightly-wound album

January 13, 2011

Ampline plays the type of music that makes genres irrelevant. You Will Be Buried Here crams 17 tracks of┬árock, punk, post-rock, post-punk, indie-pop, folk and more into 43 minutes. To say that it defies classification is like saying Picasso is a painter. It just doesn’t do the phrase justice. Ampline plays music, and they do it brilliantly.

The band kicks the set off with the title track, a mellow rumination complete with piano, bell kit and vocals (which are used sparingly throughout). Having known them primarily as a raucously energetic band, this was a bit of a curve, but a good curve nonetheless. After a very enjoyable minute, they shut the tune down and kick into their first distorted tune, “Our Carbon Dreams.”

Ampline’s sound is very simple: a guitar, a bass guitar, a drummer and occasional vocals. They make much out this by limiting repetition of parts and genres. “Our Carbon Dreams” comes complete with ascendant guitar lines reminiscent of early Appleseed Cast. “Until He Wore Out and Died” opens with a complicated, rhythmic bass line and uses it as the jumping off point for an incredibly enjoyable tune. “Vessels of Dead Weight” turns a low-slung riff into a herky-jerky headbanger. “The Electric City” is an almost-optimistic tune with some great guitar work. “Petals” includes sleigh bells in the mix for a different feel.

It’s all held together by a very tight mood that stays strong even when the songs change. Guitarist Mike Montgomery recorded, mixed and mastered the whole effort, and the fact that someone very close to the tunes did the engineering is clear. The mix is pristine, showing off exactly what the band is. The mix is so immediate that it feels as if Ampline is in the room with you.

The songs within are strong, engaging and worth repeating, each emotional in a far more realistic way than Dashboard Confessional or the latest pop/punk band are. They draw the listener in, clearly display an emotion, and invite the listener to experience that with the musicians. It’s this pull throughout the entire album that makes closer “Room and Pillar” the devastating punch it is; after an entire album of tightly-wound, organized music, they lead you out with a single-note melody on a distant guitar underscored by some mumbling. It says volumes with very little, simply because it means something as a piece of the bigger whole.

It is incredibly rare for a band to have talents this strong at each instrument, and rarer still for them to have interlocking chemistry as tight as Ampline’s. This album is striking; even as a person who listens to music all day every day, this album grabbed me from the get-go and did not relinquish my attention until it was over. This is easily one of my favorite releases of the year; I’m sad that I didn’t hear about it until just now. You Will Be Buried Here is a spectacular achievement.

tHE POLES' metal/rock has the soul of an indie-rock band

March 1, 2010

Yesterday I praised Self-evident for perfectly capturing indie-rock. Labelmates tHE POLES have a similar mindset, although they swing out to further extremes than Self-evident does. tHE POLES’ Twelve Winds sounds like a metal band with the soul of an indie-rock band.

If you play Self-evident right into tHE POLES, it works perfectly. Both bands have a middle-of-the-road stance when it comes to mood and volume. Neither band dedicates the majority of their time on one extreme or the other, preferring to play in the middle ground. tHE POLES, though, have a decidedly more dissonant idea of where the middle is. It’s still not chugga chugga very often, but “We Dine in White” features a Tool-esque bass riff, pressing drums, and dissonant rhythm guitar in addition to the calm, melodic guitar work on top of it all. It is this dynamic that tHE POLES play with the entire album; the tension between gritty sounds and pretty ones. And while there is rhythmic interplay here, it’s not nearly as pronounced as on the Self-evident’s Endings. That’ not what they were going for.

No, this album is all about mood, from the rough-throated vocals to the clanging rhythm guitars to the weird keys that come in at places. Especially toward the end of the album, tHE POLES get into a groove, cranking out several tunes in a row that ebb and flow at an incredibly natural pace. These songs feel like they already existed and were simply captured out of the air by the band, such is the ease with which they seem played and recorded. From the coming-out-of-the-bunker weariness of “Night Has a Smile” to the lost-in-the-woods paranoia of “Gasoline” through to starts-at-nothing-ends-at-thrashing build of “Fire in the Woods” and even on further, tHE POLES have constructed intense tunes that thrash your psyche more than your ears.

This is less likely to stay in my permanent rotation because it does ratchet up toward the heavier end of things, and it’s a rare day that I dial up a heavy album for the heck of it. But if I had to listen to heavy music, this is where I’d want it to be at. These songs are occasionally heavy, but thoughtfully so. They more often fall in that in-between space where it’s so hard to stand out. And tHE POLES stand out in that space, which is a testament to their songwriting skills. Definitely an album to check out for fans of MeWithoutYou, Explosions in the Sky, Isis, and other metal/rock that cares more about mood than ripping your face off (although it does enjoy the face-melting once it gets there).

PepperDome's experimental hard rock is unique but off-putting

February 13, 2010

PepperDome’s Let’s Try the Otherside is a blast of unrelenting social-activist hard rock that doesn’t really care what you think about it. PepperDome (which is John Tokarczyk on drums, guitar, bass and vocals) embraces everything that he has to offer: off-putting vocals, weird rhythms, odd melodies, and peculiar lyrical choices. It’s all pulled off with confidence, even when it makes me scratch my head.

The strange vocals are the hardest bit to wrap my head around. I nearly quit listening because I just don’t like the vocal tone at all. But the music, which incorporates elements of System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and sludge-heavy rock bands, intrigued me enough to listen to it. It’s certainly a singular vision. There’s nothing like PepperDome happening that I know of.

This is a difficult release to listen to. It’s the result of a complete and singular vision; but that vision is so specific and pointed that it seems to exclude average listeners. I’d pass on this one unless you really like experimental hard rock (Primus, Tool, etc).

Post Harbor brings all the post-rock parts together successfully

January 6, 2010

I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.

Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.

They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.

They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.

Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.

This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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