Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Horizon: Canyons of Static

January 15, 2012

Canyons of Static‘s post-rock is the type that builds from a single element to jubilant roar and thrash, like the best moments of Sigur Ros. The big moment is often a pedal stomp that overdrives the guitar into the stratosphere. I wish I knew the name of it, as it’s an iconic sound: Final Days Society and others use it to great effect.

The “heavens just opened up” pedal is a powerful songwriting move, especially when paired with wailing drums and thumping bass. The beautiful “Wake,” which juxtaposes a monster wall of sound against delicate keys, is the perfect example of their oeuvre. If their show is anything like the towering epics of Farewell Shadows, CoS is absolutely overwhelming live.

The five tunes create an energetic, passionate atmosphere for almost all 34 minutes. This is a double-edged sword; while the release is consistent, it doesn’t show the variety of CoS’s songwriting ability. In future releases, I hope to see them diversify their songwriting moods and structures.

Canyons of Static’s well-established sound is foregrounded in Farewell Shadows. The band has chemistry, instrumental chops and experience (first release: 2006); now they need to grow in diversity. If you’re into Sigur Ros, Moonlit Sailor, Unwed Sailor or Dorena, you’ll be a big fan of Canyons of Static.

Quick Hits: Dorena

January 9, 2011

Dorena‘s About Everything and More is the type of post-rock I love. Clean, single-note melodies traipse about hopefully on top of a yearning rhythm section, building to the big payoff. The best moments of early Appleseed Cast (“Fishing the Sky”) and Unwed Sailor’s whole discography play with the ebb and flow of hopeful post-rock, and Dorena is taking their place next to Moonlit Sailor as my favorite up-and-coming post-rock bands. It’s no wonder that they’re both on Deep Elm Records; when those guys decide to do a genre, they do it up right.

Dorena lets loose from the first song: “The Morning Bus” sets a groove with a bass line, augments with distant atmospheric synths, introduces an intricate-but-casual-in-intensity drum beat, drops in crunchy but not overblown guitars, sprinkles some clean guitar melodies on top, then garnishes with some wordless ohs. They build it up to the payoff, where the melody comes via synth AND guitar in over the top of a crushingly distorted rhythm guitar while the drums spazz out (but without losing the overall sense of wonder). It’s a veritable blueprint of a great post-rock song. They’ve either done their homework or been born to play the genre. Either way, the listener wins.

If you like optimistic, building post-rock, get your hands on Dorena’s About Everything and More. You will not regret it.

Moonlit Sailor gives "Hope" to all fans of instrumental post-rock

August 5, 2010

There’s a whole world of people out there; no one can meet everyone. And it’s impossible to form deep connections with every one of the relatively few people we meet. To make matters worse, there’s no way to guess when and where the next deep connection will be found. But when that deep connection is found, all is forgiven. All the frustration is worth it, because this new person is so great.

If listening to music is like meeting people, then “Hope” by Moonlit Sailor is my new best friend. Moonlit Sailor’s 2009 instrumental post-rock album So Close to Life has many treasures on it, but none compare to the bliss of “Hope.” The song is so gripping that I can guarantee you I’ll still be listening to it in ten years.

Moonlit Sailor’s instrumental post-rock skews to the pretty side of the spectrum. They love clean guitar lines, soaring melodies, melodic bass work and acoustic guitar, which is unusual for the genre. They have much more in common with Unwed Sailor than they do with Mogwai. “Hope” is the epitome of their sound.

The tension-heavy intro, full of cymbal splashes and pensive piano flourishes, gives way to a solo acoustic guitar playing the beautiful main chord progression. Then, in an absolutely brilliant moment,  the whole band gleefully crashes back in at full speed and intensity. My jaw dropped the first four or five times I heard it. The only way the song could be more gleeful is if someone shot off a confetti cannon at exactly the moment they start up and let the colors rain down as the band tears through the song.

The band keeps playing through various iterations of the main melody, getting heavier and heavier as the song goes along. They keep building tension on top of tension, only letting a little bit of it go at each “chorus.” This makes the final payoff much more gratifying. The final time around, the drums are pounding, the guitars are wailing away, and the piano is twinkling is an incredibly satisfying way. After all, they’ve nailed it: the whole thing sounds exactly like what I believe hope sounds like. It is absolutely my favorite track of this year so far, and it wasn’t even released this year.

Moonlit Sailor doesn’t just bring the power on “Hope.” They know how to set up a tune and build it slowly, as only one song here drops below the 5-minute mark.  “Landvetter” is a more pensive piece, but it retains an energy that doesn’t let it get mired down in mope. “Sunbeams” has a wonderful wide-eyed feel to it due to the simple yet powerful melody. “1994” falls between the glee of “Sunbeams” and the thoughtfulness of “Landvetter” to create an incredibly beautiful song that would not be out of place on a Sigur Ros record.  The enormous synth moment at 2:30 of “1994” creates an ethereal, uplifting mood that simply reminds me of a higher plane.

There are a couple of songs that drag on So Close to Life, but they are inconsequential compared to the number of tunes that pay off many times over. This album is an absolute must for all lovers of post-rock, especially those who like crescendos, tension and epic moments. Moonlit Sailor loves that stuff, and they give it to their listeners in spades. “Hope,” “1994” and “Landvetter” are simply some of the best tunes I’ve ever heard in the genre. Highly recommended.

Self-evident's indie-rock is nigh on perfect

March 7, 2010

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there’s indie and there’s independent. Indie is a culture; independent is a status (you are signed or independent). Both have only tangential relevance to indie-rock, which is a particular type of rock. Lazy journalists use it as a catch-all, but when they say “the new big thing in indie-rock,” they really mean the “the new big thing in indie culture.” And that could be (and has been!) anything from scarves to bandannas to high-hat dance beats to optimism to cynicism and on and on.

But there really is an indie-rock sound. It’s characterized by a rock’n’roll set up, with at least some drums, a guitar and a bass. Chords are used in unusual ways, rhythms and melodies are experimented with, and songwriting structures are composed in non-traditional ways. There’s intensity, but it doesn’t make a habit of the lightning tempos of punk, the brutal intensity of metal, or the macho posturing of rock’n’roll. There are quiet sections, but it doesn’t turn into the cute moods of twee, the forlorn sounds of folk, or the giddy shine of indie-pop. It’s middle of the road, if the road was on someone else’s map that you couldn’t see. It’s emotionally tempered rock’n’roll with thought. There’s artistic ideals fused into it.

The reason I spend the time to explain my definition of indie-rock is because Self-evident plays indie-rock. If a person came up to me and asked me what indie-rock was, I’d point them to Endings as a beginning. Then I’d give them the history lesson. But on a time crunch, Self-evident’s songs would work.

That’s not to say that Endings is generic or wishy washy. On the contrary, the musical vision of the three men in Self-evident is laser-guided. They cull most of their aggression from the vocalist, who hollers as if he were in a punk band, while they pull their melodies from the incredibly tight interplay between the bass and guitar work. The two musicians weave rhythms and melodies together in a fascinating and mesmerizing way, often resulting in beautiful harmonies that take the ear off-guard. The power comes from the drummer, who pounds away as if he were in a straight-up rock band. And the parts, which don’t seem on paper to blend well, mix gloriously. This can only be the result of hours and hours of practice and songwriting.

And when “The Future” comes over the speakers, I’m immensely glad that the band took the time to be precise. The song is the epitome of the last paragraph; the tight rhythms and harmonies scattered throughout the piece demand to be carefully listened to. There are sections that thunder with a dissonant intensity, but it gives way to a peaceful, lullaby-esque melody to close out the piece. It’s simply astounding. It’s like if the Appleseed Cast wasn’t prone to distorted freak-outs, or if Unwed Sailor had lyrics, or if MeWithoutYou had gone all indie-rock instead of all post-hardcore.

“Everything All at Once” has a similarly powerful and beautiful sway. This one’s pretty section overpowers the intense section. It gives in to the ominous “Temporary, Confused,” whose use of background vocals and insistent drumming make it another standout. The glitching “At Last” threw me for a loop for a second until I understood what was going on; it’s one of the most complex and heaviest of the bunch, but it also features one of the quietest sections on the album.

This is not an album that you slap on in the background of your life. This is music to be appreciated. Endings is an album of eleven tunes with nothing left up to chance. Every turn is meticulously planned and plotted, and the result is a brilliant album that holds attention melodically, rhythmically, and mood-wise for almost forty minutes (longer, if you repeat songs – as you should). This is a stand-out release in every sense of the word, and I hope that people will release that and lavish the praise this album so rightly deserves. I mean, who else in the world is going to write a song as ambitious as “Apprentices,” and then make it sound easy? No one. Get this album now.

Shorthand Phonetics gets instrumental, releases best album of career

February 25, 2010

Okay, if you tuned in yesterday, you saw me tackle Shorthand Phonetics’ Errors in Calculating Odds, Errors in Calculating Value. I said the songwriting was awesome but that the album was too long because the vocals were difficult. For those of you looking for the promised treat at the end of the last review, here it is: Shorthand Phonetics’ Score no. 1 “Dream:Chase” in A major, op. 17, for Three Electric Guitars, One Bass Guitar and One Drum Kit is an album that’s one-fourth the length of Errors and totally instrumental. Basically, everything good about Errors is here and none of the bad.

The rock that Ababil Ashari so aptly writes is displayed in unadorned splendor here. There’s no lyrics or vocals to get in the way; just pure songwriting. Ashari strays from his pop-rock idiom some and moves toward Explosions in the Sky post-rock, but it couldn’t be more pleasing. For the post-rockers in the room, standout track “Act II: Middle, c. Your Dexterity Modifier is Just Right / Captain’s Armband / Display of Badasstitude” is much closer to Unwed Sailor’s optimistic melodies than Explosions’ moody ones, but not enough people know of Unwed Sailor. There is an awkward rock solo at the end of the song that doesn’t fit, but for the most part, there are glorious melodies that fit perfectly in the context of the song throughout.

But, like Errors, there are some incredibly poignant quiet moments as well. “Act II: Middle, b. XP From a Sage Expy (Terrific Speech 3) / Ease In (Taking a Level in Badass)” is strikingly well-composed as a minimalist piece. The fact that it segues perfectly into the aforementioned instrumental rock track is awesome.

It’s worth note that the entire eighteen-minute album plays as one song; it’s also worth note that there are composition skills at work here that go beyond “I can write eighteen straight minutes of music!” There are musical themes that are advanced, repeated, modified and re-introduced. There is ebb and flow of mood and emotion. This is, simply put, a classical piece of music in the rock idiom (just as the far-too-clunky title espouses it to be).

The only thing that I can really compare this to is The Programme, a Tulsa band that died an early death after releasing the best instrumental rock concept album about time travel that I’ve ever heard. And that’s high praise, because the Programme has often sat in the “favorite band” seat in my head. There are still weird, idiosyncratic moments in this release (like the weird and annoying feedback of “Sad Panda Dies…”, although when considering the epic moment that comes after the feedback, it can be admitted), because it is a Shorthand Phonetics release. But this is easily the best Shorthand Phonetics release I’ve ever heard, because it plays to every one of their strengths and eliminates all of the weaknesses. This is epic, fantastic, inspiring music. If you like epic rock’n’roll, instrumental rock, pop-rock, or generally exciting music, you need to check out the epic Score no. 1 “Dream:Chase” in A major, op. 17, for Three Electric Guitars, One Bass Guitar and One Drum Kit.

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

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