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Month: November 2004

Hope is Our Shield/ Rebuild: Recover EP

hopeisourshieldHope is Our Shield/ Rebuild: Recover EP

Best Element: Well-thought out post-hardcore song structures.

Genre: Post-hardcore

Website: www.hopeisourshield.tk

Label: n/a

Occasionally, I cringe when I have to review a band. Sometimes it’s because the review is hard to write due to some aspect of the music. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have the time or energy. Sometimes it’s because I like the album, but I have to give it a mediocre review. Unfortunately, Hope is Our Shield’s EP “Recover: Rebuild” is one of those albums.

Their post-hardcore/emo sound is tight, but the vocalist brings HIOS down immensely. I hate to say that as well, as he is purely the vocalist, and not a guitarist/vocalist, but it’s the truth- his sung vocals really detract from the music. They’re not in the same tone as the hardcore music they try to fit over. HIOS is really good at playing their songs, as they bring an interesting aesthetic to each song with the use of keys, but everything they accomplish just feels cheapened after the vocals are added to it.

Enough of the vocals. That’s the depressing part of the review. On to the good part. HIOS does play post-hardcore, and before we go on, a quick definition of post hardcore is in order. *ahem*

Post-Hardcore- Post-Hardcore is what happened when hardcore kids discovered that they didn’t always have to play hard and fast. They started experimenting, playing hard and slow, or fast and soft, or soft and slow- but always keeping the tough, rough vocals of hardcore. Post-hardcore bands revel in making interesting aesthetics to their music, which is why I’ve said ‘aesthetics’ three times in this review already.

The music shifts back and forth between tension-filled interludes of mellower fare and bursts of hardcore anger, screaming, and the like- just like many post-hardcore bands. The formula isn’t what’s so good about HIOS- it’s how they pull it off. All their instruments fit together. When they play, it just feels like one big instrument doing different things. If I were to break down the songs into instrumentation (as I’m known to do) I would be destroying the idea that HIOS has set forth. In fact, to an extent, these songs run together as well, presenting a cohesive idea throughout the entire album. This is great for a post-hardcore band- most can barely keep the same flow through a song. The best song here is the epic “Choke”- it isn’t the loudest, isn’t the most powerful, but it’s just inordinately moving. You feel a connection with it unlike any other song on this album. It could be the finger-snap transition from mellow to dual screamers, then finger-snap transition back to mellow, or it could be the ‘gets-under-your-skin’ bass line…either way, this song is great.

If you can get past the crappy sung vocals and focus on the music here, this is a great album. It has some excellently thought out song structures and song cohesiveness. Hope Is Our Shield could be a very exciting band if they can keep a mood throughout an LP as well as they have through this EP; because even this short of an album leaves an impact on me. I can’t wait for their longer-form stuff.

-Stephen Carradini

Ghost Tales – An Island in a Shower EP

ghosttalesGhost Tales – An Island in a Shower EP

Best Element: Unexplainably beautiful songwriting and performances.

Genre: Acoustic Singer/Songwriter

Website: contact Gloria_records’hotmail.com

Label: N/a

Some bands give off a distinct feel- MewithoutYou makes you want to flail wildly and break something, Coldplay turns the hardest man mellow, Fountains of Wayne can crack a smile on the driest face, and so on and so on. Ghost Tales transports you to that blissful time after you’ve just woken up from a long sleep.

The three songs on this EP each retain an untainted, very nearly unearthly aura that whispers you softly through them. “Fishing” is both the mellowest and best of the three mostly acoustic/guitar compositions (“Gloria” is filled out with bass and drums). The strikingly simple chorus of “I’ll be fine” allows Victor Alvarez’s smooth voice to most clearly exude the sleepy warmth and sincere beauty that is trademark to a Ghost Tales song.

Another trademark to a Ghost Tales song is storytelling- all three of these songs paint detailed scenes with dynamic, endearing characters in them. The most heartbreaking story is “Gloria”, the tale of a man who drank too much and lost his lover when her father married her off to the man with the most money. The explanation is simple, but once you hear the impassioned cry of “Our love was a savior, but we sinned just too much! Gloria!” you’ll feel the gravity of the situation as Alvarez imagined it- it’s unexplainable in text.

That really is the true test of music. If you can explain away all the nuances of music in words, then the music really isn’t as strong as it should be. When music is its own entity, given life that can’t be taken apart logically, then it’s amazing. Ghost Tales is amazing, because I can’t impress on you enough how much you want this simple little disc.

-Stephen Carradini

Fall of Transition/Retrace a Lost Design

falloftransitionFall of Transition/Retrace a Lost Design
Best Feature: Combination of new and old styles creates an exceptional style.
Genre: Emo/Indie Rock
Website: http://www.falloftransition.com
Label: Self-released

While many new bands try to integrate their own talents into an already established emo/indie sound, Fall of Transition combines the subtle sensitivity of Sunny Day Real Estate with the sometimes grainy yet passionate vocals of bands such as Brand New and Taking Back Sunday to result in a clean, powerful, emotional release that pays tribute to indie rock’s pioneers while still retaining a modern sound.

Having said this, Fall of Transition does have a very unique and inimitable sound. There is a lot of emotion in their music, both through the vocals as well as their instrumentation. This creates a wonderful harmony between the tone of each song and the underlying message that the vocals are trying to communicate. For example, the song “Fabulous Liar” opens with an almost dark piano line, which fades into a soft guitar line and somber vocals, complementing the song’s probable theme of infidelity- although the subtle nature of the song allows different interpretations for each listener.

Fall of Transition’s songwriting is exceptional, but it does have one minor shortcoming. Although the songwriter’s ability to create intense, cleverly and carefully poetic songs is extraordinary, FoT rarely branches out from the theme of unrequited love (the exception being “Silhouettes”, which appears to be a love song, although the poetic style of the songs by nature leaves them open to interpretation). Nevertheless, each song is sung straight from the heart, which combined with the lyrical talent overcomes the repeated theme. The pure emotion put into the songwriting hits hard by luring in the emotions of the listener and holding on from the first word of every song until the last.

-Andrea Goodwin

The New Wave of Emo

So who started the new wave of emo, anyway? Was it Brand New who inspired the masses? Did Thursday kick it off with Full Collapse? Was it Cursive’s work? Or was it a more obscure band? The world will never agree.

Nevertheless, there is a new wave of emo floating around- and like any new, popular genre, it’s being branded the “new grunge”. We at the IC don’t want you supporting the bad stuff and instead of the good stuff, so we set here a list of the fifteen best independent emo songs of the last few years.

15. “The Lights On”- Starflyer 59. The mind-numbing guitar drone of this song works wonderfully against the purposely drab vocals to create an enveloping aural experience. The odd guitar ideas of SF59 do nothing but help this mood.

14. “Vanessa’s Night Sky” – Drawing Down the Sun. The trick to this one is in the intro- an excellently used sample of a girl breaking up with a guy is punctuated by a shiver-inducing scream of anguish. The acoustic guitar riff that this was happening over (!) is then transmuted to an electric guitar, and the song takes off from there. The vocals are warbling and insecure here, setting the mood perfectly.

13. “Resolution” – Bright Line Spectrum. The drums pump this song on at a blistering rate- it’s the most subtle, effective use of a double bass pedal that I’ve ever heard. Each and every guitar riff is stunningly accented by the drums- it seems like the guitar and drums are one instrument. Some excellent songwriting and a catchy vocal hook (“Better days, come tomorrow!”) contribute to the song, but it’s really the drummer’s show here.

12. “Twenty-Four Minus Eighteen”- Before Braille. Lyrical brilliance and dramatic delivery ensure Before Braille’s spot on this list. The vocals never stop on this song, continuing straight through the abnormal songwriting scheme. There’s no verses or chorus, just a long amount of different parts thrown together.

11. “Another Russian Romance Novel”- Avila. It includes a violin/viola (I can’t tell which one), but don’t you dare call this a Yellowcard rip. The interplay between the heavily distorted guitars and the stringed instrument is perfectly performed and mixed. The group vocals here also work well- giving this a sense of urgency even in the midst of a slower song. Beautiful arrangement here, but still hard.

10. “Without You”- The Tokyo Smash. Kinetic, flailing, and frenetic, The Tokyo Smash combine hardcore and punk the right way- hardcore screaming over charging, hardcore/punk hybrid riffs. The passionate screams give way to level-headed singing; the contrast between the two is stellar and clearly done on purpose.

9. “Double Edged Sword” – Maverick. This song builds from a sparse electric guitar hum to a double barrel assault on your ears in less than 5 minutes. All the pieces are here to make a great song- punishing bass, confident vocals, unique guitar sounds, intricate songwriting ideas, and undeniable passion. When the vocals soar over the top of the all-out flail towards the end of the song, it’s pure beauty.

8. “That’s No Moon- It’s a Space Station.”- Say From Charms. This expansive, meandering track plays out like an opera- a complex amalgam of delicate ditties, intricate passages, dissonant diatribes, and thumping rock. The extremely emotive guitars here are stunning- the dual guitars feed off each other better than any other band I’ve ever heard. The vocals here are amazingly inspired as well.

7. “Rara Avis”- .Cavil.At.Rest. This song is mixed atrociously- all the instruments are out of proportion with each other, creating this mix: super-distorted guitars, heavy bass, hollow drums, and cymbals as loud as a freaking massacre. It’s like a knife to your ear- but it’s such a good pain. The intro sounds like knives shearing metal- it’s tied for the coolest intro on this list (The other being number 14).

6. “Refrain” – Glori-H. Juxtaposition is used effectively in most of these songs- it’s part of what makes a good song into a great song. It’s especially used in “Refrain,” as the intro includes a hushed singer, barely strummed chords, and creepy minimalist drums before exploding into a wash of crunchy feedback, yelped vocals, and powerful, punchy drums. It’s unexpected, yet it’s oh-so-satisfying. This happens three or four times in the song, with the vocalist getting angrier and angrier each time, until his voice is on the verge of dissolving into a scream. But it never quite gets there- an example of tension at its greatest.

5. “The Train”- Noise Ratchet. Hollow, foreboding, haunting, and endearing don’t do this song justice. The best moments of this song feature personal vocals singing a song of yearning over a reverberating single-note melody. The hard sections are great too, as the vocals stand up excellently against them, but it’s just so much more impacting when he sings against such an insecure backdrop. The drums here pummel.

4. “Gentlemen” – MewithoutYou. This is pure post-hardcore. Not-as-hard-as-hardcore music set against whispered/spoken/ranted/raved/yelled vocals- no real screaming at all, although the delivery is just as passionate. The music is blistering, as a militaristic guitar beat ominously thumps until a vocal hook unleashes a wave of anguished guitars and bass that will stick in your mind. The vocals will catch you by the throat- don’t try to resist it. You will love this track.

3. “Right Now, Today, I Don’t Believe in Hell” – Red Animal War. The opening guitar riff is chunky, dissonant, and inviting, as the verses fill in the empty spaces that you want to hear perfectly. The story told here is extremely interesting, and if I wasn’t so interested in the fantastic bass work, I would tell you something about it- but the bass work here is just too good. As a perfect accent to the guitars, the bass fills in the spaces of their sound perfectly, as well as carrying it at 2:25- the guitars drop out and the bass plays a sick riff. It’s motion-intensive, really fast, and brilliantly performed. Hearing the song strictly for the bass riff is a perfectly acceptable reason to hear this- it’s that good.

2. “Fake Your Death” – Woke Up Falling. Spastic is a good way to categorize this. The song doesn’t feel like a recording- it feels like you’re in a room as Woke Up Falling just improvises away. Every time. This is due mostly to the chaotic vocal delivery- changing from a rapid-fire scream to a sing to a yell (often all in one line), they provide an unmatched potential energy for this song. The bombastic drums and riveting guitars release this energy, as the passion in this just bleeds out. There is nothing more exciting than feeling what the artist feels, and as you hear “Fake Your Death”, you will understand exactly what Woke Up Falling feels (even if you don’t understand the lyrics).

1. “Ravishing Matt Ruth” – The Chiodos Bros. How many songs start out with a xylophone solo? Not enough, apparently, because the Chiodos Bros have kicked off the most amazing emo song I’ve heard with one heck of a xylophone. The songmanship here is just fantastic, with dueling vocal lines between two equally frantic vocalists, a piano solo, vocal solos, simply flooring guitar antics, and other complexities that make this song just too good for words. You will want to repeat this song multiple times- there’s about four different tempos, and it concludes with such finality that you can’t help but want to scream along. Your ears will thank you for this later….

As Night Falls

as-night-fallsAs Night Falls: The End of All Innocence

Genre: Indie Rock with just a touch of a screamo and alternative rock influences

Label: The Agency Records

Best Feature: The melding of male and female vocals.

Website: http://www.asnightfalls.com

In an industry where every band seems to strive to be a copycat of their mainstream forefathers, it is refreshing to come across a band who can borrow from the talents of their influences enough to pay tribute to them, but still retain originality in their own sound. As Night Falls (previously known as Nightfall), a “screamo-influenced” indie rock band from California, is able to demonstrate this ability on their first five song EP, The End of All Innocence, which was released in June of 2004 on The Agency Records.

This EP has become an integral part of my listening routine. It pays homage to bands such as The Anniversary and The Rentals through the bonding of male and female vocals, but has tradeoffs between screaming/singing reminiscent of bands such as Silverstein. While their overall sound pays tribute to other bands in this genre these ways, their sound quality also breaks from the norm as it includes some alternative influenced guitar riffs amidst their trading off between more driving guitar lines and their slower, more emotional and melodic guitar lines.

It is in their ability to cover a variety of subjects through their lyrics that their creativity is demonstrated. Through my own interpretation of each song’s lyrics, every one song captured or evoked a different emotion, including fear of violence and terrorism resulting in activism (“Succumb to Violence”), the sadness of unrequited love (“If Stained Glass Only Knew”), the difficulties associated with self-esteem and learning to respect yourself (“The Philosophy of Time Travel”), overcoming adversity and taking responsibility for your actions (“False Sense of You”), and dealing with a personal loss (“Beauty Bleeds”). The lyrics themselves, however, are symbolic enough that each person could interpret the songs differently, which is an excellent quality as it opens the door for many people to become emotionally involved in the music in their own way. Their ability to refrain from repeating the same subject song after song is a refreshing break from today’s trend of having entire CDs about broken hearts.

This EP is well worth a listen, and if you can’t pick it up at a show, it can be purchased on smartpunk.com for the reasonable price of $5.

-Andrea Goodwin

Forever Changed/The Existence EP

foreverchangedForever Changed/The Existence EP

Genre: Emo/Indie

Best Feature: The full album is coming!

Website: http://www.foreverchanged.net

Label: Floodgate Records (http://www.floodgaterecords.com)

Forever Changed is a traditional Christian emo/indie rock band, but they encompass this sound without being formulaic. They borrow a little bit of Thrice’s musical stylings while incorporating a flair for fluidity which is all their own.

One thing that Forever Changed does well is annunciate clearly. For the most part, the listener does not need a lyric sheet to hear what is being said, which is proactive to both conveying their message and drawing in the listener. Their lyrics often capture Christian themes without being preachy, which helps communicate a message that can be personally interpreted by both a Christian listener and a non Christian listener.

Musically, no two songs sound the same on this EP. “Encounter” is a strong, hard hitting song with intense vocals, “Alone” is a slow, emotive song, and “Identical” combines musical melodies with strong vocal harmonies.

In the end, this 10 minute EP leaves the listener with a good taste of what Forever Changed has to offer. If the listener is left wishing for more, their wish will be granted in March 2005, the tentative release date for the full length from these talented musicians.

-Andrea Goodwin

Spaces to Occupy and Abandon

fiveblankpagesFive Blank Pages- Spaces to Occupy and Abandon

Best Element: Strong Melodies.

Genre: Pop/rock

Website: www.fiveblankpages.com

Label: Eezeestar records eezeestar’hotmail.com

Five Blank Pages will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is one of the last bands I discovered on Mp3.com. I would ask for a moment of silence here or tell it to rest in peace if both of those phrases were not so cliché- but they are, so I’ll settle for this phrase: I miss you, Mp3.com.

I could go into a long diatribe on that, but I will not. I will return to the task at hand and describe Five Blank Pages’ inaugural EP, Spaces to Occupy and Abandon. Their sound is a rather average pop/rock type sound, so this 17 minute EP is a rather straight-forward affair, and will be dealt with as such.

  1. “Lacewood” is a mostly instrumental acoustic intro to the album. It’s pretty, mellow, and just barely over a minute.
  2. The first real song here is “A Point of Reference”, where we are introduced to some smooth vocals, a rather jumpy guitar sound, basic drum patterns, and occasional keys. The melody here is pretty nifty, but the guitar riff gets old fast.
  3. To throw in some variation, “Your Best Day is Yet to Come” is rather mellow. This features the vocals again, and once again has some nice melodies. The rest of the band doesn’t really shine here either. It’s a functional backdrop- not much else.
  4. Next, we’re introduced to “Richie T.”, a happy medium between mellow and loud. The blippy keyboard noises inserted here are very well done, just as well as- you guessed it- the melody. It’s very soothing here- probably the best out of the bunch. This song is capped off with the coolest effect they use: as the guitars get heavier and heavier at the end of the song, the drums get faster and faster, until it’s basically a metal-esque blender of sound. The keyboards do a little effect and kill off all the noise abruptly, and “Richie T.” effortlessly segues into
  5. “Used To”, which is a very interesting song because it sounds remarkably like “Your Best Day is Yet to Come”, only with better input by the band. You can probably guess by now what my favorite part of this song is- cause I mean, when you start singing about “Louis Armstrong and the Beatles, Led Zeppelin number 2…” you can’t help but love the vocals. After that mellow-ish song, we hit
  6. the closer, which is titled “Five Blank Pages”. I actually liked this song least, because by the time we got to this point in the album, I was really not interested in Five Blank Pages’ sound, and I kept losing interest in this song. As many times as I listened to this album, it just never failed to fail me.

This is a pretty average pop/rock album. If you like REM, you’ll like this- that’s about the closest comparison I can give. It has some great melody, so if you’re a sucker for the vocals, Five Blank Pages will float your boat for a long time- if you’re into composition and overall songwriting, there’s better things to do with your time.

-Stephen Carradini