Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Proof that The Felix Culpa is Alive and Kicking

September 29, 2009

In terms of what you should play to get famous as a band, The Felix Culpa wins. In terms of what you should do to get famous as a band, they have failed miserably. They released their first album Commitment in 2004. It was generally heralded as awesome by people like Alt Press, and (yes) Independent Clauses. They followed it up in 2006 with an EP/DVD set (Thought Control), which was again met with raves. They then promised a full-length album, which had everyone in the scene drooling (yes, including us).

But they didn’t trot out a rushed album of outtakes from Commitment. They said that it was going to be a real album, which made everyone even more excited. A year went by, which people were okay with. Two years went by, which hardcore fans were okay with. I mean, if TFC is creating the next modern masterpiece, they need time, bro! But then three years went by, and people started to wonder if the Felix Culpa was for real. I started checking their Myspace for shows, not to see if I could go to one, but to make sure there still were shows. I was afraid they were dead.

Thankfully, they noted this, and tossed their fans a bone: the So So Remission EP, which is the reason for this history of Felix Culpa. It’s basically exactly what The Felix Culpa said they would not do: outtakes from the Commitment/Thought Control sessions. The incredibly confusing part about this release is that these three songs are freaking awesome. If they had been content to just slap down a quick set of songs for mass consumption, that album would have been better than everything else out there in its genre.

Because these songs are literally genre-defining for a genre that’s lost. Serious emotional rock hasn’t had a standard bearer in years; Radiohead is now a culture warrior against labels, Muse is arena-rocking, Thrice didn’t pan out as expected, and the emo/post-hardcore scene that was so vibrant in the late 90s/early 2000s (Thursday/Deja Entendu-era Brand New/etc) has retreated to the confines of their respective genres or emotions. There’s no transcendent, “this is where we are” band out there. With So So Remission (yes, a freakin’ b-sides EP), The Felix Culpa is trying to tell us that they’re already that band, and the glacially-paced work on their new album is going to be worth it.

In just over fourteen minutes, TFC takes every convention of modern serious music and spins it. The opening to “At Least You Didn’t Slam the Door When You Left” plays with dreamy note-picking and morphed low-end guitar work. They burst into full-out rock mode seemingly in the middle of a verse, completely unexpectedly. The vocals are still calm, to contrast against the thundering pace and tone. They drop it out and play with palm muting, making it feel actually necessary by coupling it with rapidfire tom hits. The rhythmic sense gets complex, but they don’ t belabor the point. They get to the climax of the song and unleash a beautiful melody, then a second, then a harmony, then let the vocalist go wild, then let the band take over the climax. In short, they run the gamut of “bad songwriting tricks” in 3:41, making it all sound fresh, tied together by the incredibly clear, passionate vocals of lead singer Marky Hladish.

“Killing Stroke” is a more straightforward song; they eschew the songwriting tricks for melodic creativity, rhythmic power and lyrical prowess. In short, they write a fantastic song with nothing but guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Just in case there were any haters out there looking for good songwriters without tricks, the Felix Culpa can do that for you.

But it’s “Saints Not Salesmen” that made me write this, six months after this EP came out and who knows how many months until that album comes out. “Saints and Salesmen” is the type of song that takes up residence in your head. It’s a “Paranoid Android” type of song, except that Radiohead’s lyrics there aren’t really their best work, meaningwise (“kicking screaming Gucci little piggy” might in fact be one of the best-sounding lines written in modern music, but that’s beside our point). “Saints and Salesman” is a good song in that it has a progression that hooks you, a melody that keeps you, and lyrics that force you to think. It clearly sets out the idea that consumerism is a religion:

“We’re all converts to the new faith; the new church of commerce. Neither saints nor salesmen, but somewhere in between. And we’re dying as apostles, to this, our more tangible gospel. Come payday, we shall be redeemed.”

They back it up with passionate, distortion-laden entreaties. There’s builds and falls. There are false leads; there’s a point in particular where I expected The Felix Culpa to just break it open with screaming and distortion because they lead you that direction, only to do something else. In short, it’s an expertly written song with a powerful message that is relevant to the society at large. This is what indie rock loves. This is what indie rock wants.

Speaking of Radiohead, you can download the So So Remission EP for whatever you feel like paying at You should; if you like serious music, this is where it’s heading. It has vibrancy, expectancy and power. Let it not be that they go by the wayside before they can get their masterpiece dropped. You should not forget them.

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.

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