Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

SubFamily Alliance's first folk/garage rock compilation is a success

September 14, 2012

Most bands find Independent Clauses through word of mouth: a musician talks about a review I ran, and that musician’s friends send in their stuff to me. This is, I assume, how SubFamily Alliance‘s first compilation features at least three bands that have submitted work to Independent Clauses.

The 10-track S/F/A Summer Sampler is heavy on garage rock and folk, with a few other things scattered in. I’m currently high on folk and low on garage rock, so I was big on Elijah and the Moon’s “Map and Compass” and The Miami’s “Kneebone.” Elijah and the Moon’s contribution had a Josh Ritter-esque arrangement and aura, but the lead vocals were far more brazen and raw than Ritter usually uses. It’s a passionate, beautiful song that will resonate with fans of Mumford and Sons. The Miami’s “Kneebone” is an atypical folk song, starting off with a martial intro that breaks off suddenly and reveals a mumbling, feverish lead vocalist leading a call and response. The group responds “Oh, oh, Kneebone man,” to all of the lead vocalist’s entreaties, creating an entrancing tune that’s the standout of the group. Hiding Behind Sound’s “Winter 2011” is a folky sort of post-rock that calls up Devotchka, Balmorhea and Seryn, but it doesn’t belabor the point. It clocks in just under 2:00.

On the rock side, Battle Ave. contributes “Whose Hands Are These?” from their excellent album art-rock album War Paint. The Coasts and Regular Fucked Up People contribute garage rock that doesn’t stray too far from the tenets of the genre. The New Diet plays some sludgy, heavy rock, while Time Travels contributes its pop-rock inverse in sound and mood.

I’m excited to see what SubFamily Alliance puts out in the future; their diverse membership is going in some quite interesting directions. I’d be sure to check out Elijah and the Moon, Battle Ave., and The Miami.

Top Albums of the Year, pt. 1

December 29, 2011

I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.

Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem – Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.

20: Beirut – The Rip Tide. The mellower, less brash Zac Condon won me over.

19: The Antlers – Burst Apart. Mostly because “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is my favorite song of the year, although the rest of the album stands up well.

18: Gray Young – Staysail. Post-rock with heart and technical abilities.

17: Bon Iver – Bon Iver. It took a while to grow on me, but now I think that Vernon out-James Blaked James Blake.

16: David Ramirez – Strangetown EP. Moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and a beautiful voice make this a brilliant collection of tunes.

15: Restorations – Restorations. The sound of punk rockers growing old without giving up.

14: Battle Ave. – “War Paint.” A more indie-fied Titus Andronicus? Sign me up twice.

13: Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. Piano-led singer/songwriter fare rarely sounds this confident, powerful or memorable.

12: Pete Davis – The Pottsville Conglomerate. The instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens meets the acrobatic enthusiasm of a pop-punk band. Fireworks ensue.

11: Oh Look Out! – Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright. Electrifying, intricate indie-pop that loves video games just as much as music. “Kam” is brilliant.

Battle Ave. creates an indie-rock maelstrom

September 4, 2011

It’s very telling that Kevin McMahon produced Battle Ave.‘s War Paint, as McMahon had a hand in both Titus Andronicus releases, work by The Walkmen and Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Each of these bands feature an extremely emotional singer going nuts in an atypical musical setting, and War Paint is not outside McMahon’s oeuvre in that regard.

Battle Ave’s unhinged frontman is Jesse Alexander, whose anguished voice ranges from indignant slurring to full-on roar. It’s highly reminescent of Patrick Stickles’ voice (Titus Andronicus). But instead of couching it in a workingman’s punk ethos, Battle Ave. sets Alexander in the midst of an indie-rock maelstrom.

The band can get just as furious and frantic as TA (“Whose Hands Are These?”, every other song on the album), but the bands start at different ends of the spectrum. Andronicus’ pathos comes after a calming down of rage, while Battle Ave ratchets up to a cacophony.

Battle Ave. strangely calls to mind the band that Patrick Stickles least likes to be compared to: Bright Eyes. Those who love the catharsis of “Road to Joy” and the conviction of tunes like “Train Underwater” and “Another Traveling Song” will find emotional analogues here, especially in the gorgeous, horn-filled “Complications w/The Home (Hernia)”. Most of BA’s tunes blow up past the heavy end of “Road to Joy” at their apex, but you’ll feel a similar emotional connection.

In stark contrast to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, however, the songs sprawl all over the place. Their length and seeming formlessness (exactly zero choruses) call to mind Braids’ Native Speaker, although these guitars definitely go to 11 (“Puke Lust”). Because of that, it’s a tough album to grab onto. It’s not designed to be catchy, nor is it organized in easily digestible bits. This is art. The band is saying something, and if that’s not your thing, then this isn’t your thing.

Thanks to the vocal delivery, however, it’s difficult to make out what the point is. Track titles, album art and snatches of lyrics here and there make out the beginnings of a picture, but this (like The Monitor) is an album to which listeners should dedicate time. That’s an incredible artistic risk in this day and age, but I believe music is worth that, so time it will get (from me, at least).

I realize that I’ve spent less time describing songs and sounds than I usually do. I can explain that “Complications w/Traveling” is a noise-laden dream dirge, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Battle Ave.’s compositions are pretty unique, so I don’t want to waste time explaining every detail. I do, however, want to convince the people who might listen to it that they should – and the import of the album is the best way to discuss that.

The album really does have weight. The guitar tones and styles lend the album a cohesive feel, even when the band incorporates carnivalesque rhythms (as in the standout, 10-minute “”K. Divorce” (For Mildred)”). This was painstakingly written, crafted and ordered, and as a result War Paint is one of the most interesting indie-rock albums I’ve heard all year. If you’re into noisy indie-rock as art, then you should do yourself a favor and pick up Battle Ave.’s latest – you’ll find many moments of bliss.

Download the whole thing for free here.

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

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