Picture early Yellowcard: “Ocean Avenue” and “Way Away.” My fellow ‘90s kids know the picture well–the pop-punk sound infused with a violin, which they used as if it was another electric guitar. Exohxo’s latest EP The Ghost is Clear is along a similar violin-heavy pop-punk vein, yet contains a higher level of maturity. The EP’s sound is like Yellowcard all grown up (similar to when Rugrats became “All Grown Up,” but with fewer disappointments).
Seattle-based chamber rock band Exohxo’s The Ghost is Clear collects six diverse tracks that provide different combinations of chamber pop and pop-punk, with a little bit of jazz and bluegrass flavor thrown in. The Ghost is Clear will feel nostalgic at times and in the very same track feel completely new and unique.
Throughout the album, Exohxo uses the violin to accomplish an array of sounds. The combination of the violin, driving and jazzy organ makes opener “Past Lives” a feel-good summer song. Here, Exohxo uses the violin much like early Yellowcard did, in a fairly punk rock kind of way, driving the song. In “Parting Shots,” the violin adds theatrics to the track; in “Same As Always,” the violin becomes a fiddle and surprisingly takes on some bluegrass flavor. And in “You Can’t Know,” the introduction of the violin throws off the rock vibe and halfway through takes over the song by adding much more of a chamber orchestra feel to the track.
The vocals found in The Ghost is Clear also combine two worlds: the pop-punk and the theatrical. In tracks like “Trains That Look Like Towns,” the vocal aspect of the song sounds like it could come right out of a musical–picture the voice of fun.’s lead singer Nate Ruess. Yet in other songs, the vocals sound more like they came off of a pop-punk album–slightly emotional and crisp, so you can hear every sardonically hopeful lyric (“Past Lives,” “Parting Shots”). In the second verse of “Parting Shots,” the introduction of a second vocalist adds harmonization that sounds distinctly pop-punk.
Exohxo’s The Ghost is Clear is a mashup of musical worlds. The unique combination of typical rock instruments with the violin and organ spice up each track in a different way. By combining instrumental diversity with theatrical pop-punk vocals and introspective yet hopeful lyrics, The Ghost is Clear is a remarkable adventure you won’t want to miss. —Krisann Janowitz
Even though it’s been raining for the last few days, summer is indeed coming. And that means it’s time for summer music. It’s just hard to rock the Bon Iver with the sun shining and the windows down. Then again, I wouldn’t really consider Last Tuesday, Relient K or The Bee Team during the doldrums of December. Everything in its right place.
A Road to Damascus‘ So Damn Close EP is an excellent slice of summer music. Pop-punk with enough pop to roll the windows down but enough punk to keep the energy high, the three tracks here sport a sheen that could be construed as annoying if you weren’t taking it at face value. Don’t try to read anything in to these songs; they’re not made for it.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great tunes. The vocal melodies of “So Damn Close” are bright without being sugar-coated, perfect for singing along. The darker mood of “Sweetheart” evokes AFI in all the right ways, from the dour but catchy chorus to the breakdown in the bridge to the minor but not dissonant guitarwork. Equally as catchy as the first track, but in different ways. That’s what I want out of a band.
“Sang 3” yanks Yellowcard’s rhythmic and melodic shtick, but it does it with so much enthusiasm and candor that it’s entirely forgivable. While not the best track here, it’s certainly enjoyable and interesting. It features the only moment on this EP to give me shivers, at 2:40. I won’t ruin it for you.
A Road to Damascus’ So Damn Close EP is loads of fun. The tracks are fun to listen to, beg to be sung along with, and would almost certainly inspire fist-pumping at a concert. There’s not much more that I want out of a pop-punk band, and I don’t think that’s much more than the band wants to be. Highly recommended.
Pull a Star Trip’s E-vasion Inn is one of the more ambitious acoustic projects I’ve heard in a while. Instead of being content to be an acoustic guitar-fronted band singing pretty songs, they set out to fill their songs with memorable touches: background screaming, songs in other languages, electronic beats and more. For the most part, it works.
The base sound isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before. The members of Pull a Star Trip strum their acoustic guitar a lot, stick drums/bass behind it and augment with strings. They sing loudly and passionately, occasionally sacrificing tunefulness for impassioned cries (a la Places You Have Come to Fear the Most-era Dashboard Confessional, which is a compliment). The songs are all worthy of singing along, and some are even worthy of headbanging.
On top of this tried and true base, they layer their personality. The screaming is the most recognizable bit. They do have the sense to always keep it at the same monitor level as background vocals; it’s never in your face. That’s good, because it’s straight-up hardcore/metal raspy screaming. It’s used to good effect in the dramatic “My Last Wish Shall Be a Time Machine,” but in the Jason Mraz-esque “Co-driver,” it just feels really off. By the end of the album, I’d heard it so much that it pretty much registered as static and not as a meaningful element any more.
“Senal” is their offering in another language, and it’s a lush, gorgeous tune. The strings, piano, and electronic elements implemented work together excellently, and the hushed vocals only intensify the mood. The fact that it’s in a cryptic (and therefore, intriguing) language makes it even more fascinating. They do break back into English for the chorus, and that chorus is the best one of the album, as it makes great use of melody and rhythm. “Senal” is definitely one of the most memorable tracks, even though it’s incredibly challenging to sing along with (as you might imagine).”Los Rojiblancos” is in yet another language, and its rattling, consistent Spanish groove and excellent trumpet work creates another winner.
The majority of the album passes in a propulsive yet still breezy mood. If any number of pop/rock bands busted out their acoustic chops more (Boys Like Girls, We the Kings, Yellowcard, etc) but did it with legitimacy and not as a cheap ploy, it would sound similar. As it stands, the sound is similar enough to stuff that’s on the radio to be immediately accessible but different enough to be immediately embraced and enjoyed with out guilt. The large emphasis on strings should make fans of Yellowcard sit up and take notice, while the emphasis on fast, breezy but still intense songs should make fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin sign on.
This album is highly recommended for fans of modern pop/rock. It will fit nicely in your collection while filling a space that’s been abandoned since Dashboard Confessional abdicated their spot as kings of acoustic rocking (and, no matter what they say, the Honorary Title is not taking the crown).
I love pop music. I proudly claim the All-American Rejects as fellow Oklahomans, I get down to We the Kings and Boys Like Girls, Snow Patrol are my boys, Gavin Degraw is the man, etc. etc. But it’s really, really hard to do well. That’s why bands appear for one good song, then disappear (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Anyone? Eh?). You have to be a genius songwriter or have an outside angle to hook people if you’re going to be in the pop/rock genre.
The Bright Light Motion is a band of good musicians. They write competent tunes that would fit in well on radio. But they don’t have an outside hook (Snow Patrol’s accent, peculiar instruments a la Cake or Yellowcard, theatrical songwriting twists a la Panic! at the Disco, dance beats a la everyone on the radio right now) to set them apart. Their four-song EP For All the Right Reasons passes pleasantly but not impactfully. The best moment comes in the end of “Wither,” where they drop out the guitars and bring in the choir of chanting hipsters, which segues into a neat whoa-o section with a cool synthesizer. They’re tried and true pop tricks, and BLM uses them to good effect. If it ain’t broke…
“Oceans Away” is a mid-tempo headbobber that shows off the vocals but doesn’t push any boundaries. “Love Wakes the Dead” starts off with a nice little riff and a vaguely danceable drum beat, but it crashes back into chord-mashing mode for the chorus and kills whatever momentum the band had built up creatively. The song serves as a sign that The Bright Light Motion has some songwriting chops waiting to be released; they just didn’t get into this EP.
There is not a thing wrong with The Bright Light Motion. The vocals are good, the recording is tight, the songs have melodies to hum, and there’s more than enough charm to go around. But it just doesn’t add up to anything out of the ordinary. And that’s the hardest curse to break.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.