Monday, February 21st, 2005
Someone/Mason Jennings/Modest Mouse
Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, OK
Sometimes bands are dumb. This would be the case of the first opener band for Modest Mouse, who never spoke to the audience, and never once related their name. I attempted to find out who they were, and no one knew. They wasted 1500 tickets of exposure because they didn’t say their effin name. Idiots.
So after the nameless indie-pop band left the stage, Mason Jennings (who has a name, thank you very much) brought his band and confused everyone in the audience. At first listen, it was tough to peg Mason Jennings and Modest Mouse on the same show- for some reason, Modest Mouse had brought along an acoustic singer/songwriter specializing in Americana/Folk/Country? His lyrics were symbolic and nearly biblical, with references to ‘coming down the mountain’, birds, butterflies, rivers, rocks, the ocean (if I remember correctly) and other natural occurrences…and it just didn’t seem to fit. That is, until the end of the first song, when Jennings turned his voice into a crescendo ending in a yelp, and commenced his band to rocking out on a fractured, tormented riff that sounded like the devil getting out of Georgia.
Suddenly, everybody liked Mason Jennings.
The rest of his set continued in that nature, occasionally playing songs that fell into the genres of Americana, Folk, or Country, but feeling most at home when his thick, deep voice was anchoring the wild throes of a fractured rock/country mash up fit for Modest Mouse. Thoroughly enjoyable, they left the stage ready for Modest Mouse.
Unfortunately, Modest Mouse has this great tendency to be nuts. For instance, they decided not to come on stage for close to an hour after Mason Jennings left (45-50 minutes). This was mildly acceptable- I mean most bands have difficulties sometimes…but once they finally took the stage, they showed off clearly that they like being nuts by playing their hook song, “Float On”, second in the song list. How’s that for snubbing your record label….put the song they want you to play in the least important song of the set. The crowd – you guessed it- went nuts, although I’m proud to say that they were a lot more active on further songs.
Anyway, Modest Mouse sojourned on, hardly talking to the audience (this was a really morose show for audience interaction), splitting the set list evenly between old releases and the ubiquitous <u>Good News For People Who Love Bad News<u>. Highlights included the 11-man, 14-instrument treatment of the indie-pop “The Good Times are Killing Me” (they grabbed a bunch of guys from other bands, and their roadies, and their manager, and their sound guy, and their….) which lasted way longer than the album (thankfully). Isaac Brock’s voice actually made sense on this song, which is good-because throughout the rest of the show he turned most of the singing parts from <u>Good News</u> into his signature scream/sing/yell. It made for some interesting aesthetics, but hearing “The Devil’s Workday” as a spoken word interlude in the middle of some other unrecognizable song (I kept losing track of the songs they played in one section- it seemed like they morphed two or three relatively obscure tracks together) pretty much sucked. I wanted to hear the real thing.
A surprising highlight was the crowd favorite “Satin in a Coffin”, where Brock donned a banjo (this seems like the new instrument of choice for many bands) and gave the most surprisingly rocking performance I’d seen for a while- until they gave us an ear-shattering, finger-blistering, 20-minute version of “Cowboy Dan” off <u>The Lonesome Crowded West</u>. Who expected this? No one. Who loved this? Almost everyone. The song, based off a looping, chaotic alien spaceship noise, featured insane crescendos and decrescendos, spiraling from ear-shattering dissonant chords, two drummers, thunderous bass, and Isaac Brock full-on screaming into the pickups of his guitar (to distort his voice even more, as if it wasn’t ruined enough already), to virtually noiseless sections of just the whirring alien noise. Twenty minutes of it. The crowd went ballistic, and I went with them- I had never seen such a pretentious, artistic move by a major-label band. Maybe I’m listening to the wrong major-label bands, I don’t know.
The closed out their set with some songs that had a little more structure than the apocalyptic “Cowboy Dan”- for instance, “World at Large” had everyone singing “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah…” until they left the stage, barely having said anything to the audience, but still having left us hanging on their every word. Modest Mouse is ridiculous live – ridiculously good.
Sunday, February 13th, 2005
Mourning September/Name Taken/Mae/Relient K
Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, OK
Upon entering this show, I noticed that Name Taken looked a whole lot like hometown favorites Mourning September. Ridiculously shaggy hair, tendency to wave arms while playing, same microphone crouch from the lead singer….yep, they looked just like Mourning September. The band then ended a song announced, “We’re Mourning September!” My indie-rock senses were pleased.
I didn’t know MS was playing at all- I had planned on seeing Name Taken, Mae, and Relient K. The boys from September were an added bonus, although they seemed a little off their game that night. They had a guest drummer with them, and he slowed all their tempos down a lot- “Running” felt more like walking, and “Glorietta” felt downright moribund. The vocals suffered from the slow tempos- used to singing the songs faster, the vocals were confused and tripping a bit. Overall, it was making a good use of a bad situation, and the crowd enjoyed their set immensely.
Name Taken is a punk band. They played with energy, melody, harmony, and I enjoyed their set. Nothing really stood out negatively, nothing really stood out positively. I hope they come back, cause they did show promise- it’s just that right now they’re rather blah.
The songs of Mae are very complex, featuring all sorts of keys in the mix of their airtight college-rock indie-pop. That being said, their sound transferred surprisingly well from CD to performance, as the keyboardist brought along 4 or 5 separate keyboards to make all the sounds heard on the album. Their energy was undeniable, as they burned through the favorites off their debut CD Destination: Beautiful. “Summertime” was especially great, as the piano was cranked up loud enough to actually hear (unlike on the album), which added a whole new aesthetic to the song. The thunderous “All Deliberate Speed” got the audience riled up, while “This Time Is the Last Time” really took the cake on emotive rock for the set. When you’ve got 3 minutes to build up to a scream, you can make the most of it- which is what Mae did. They closed with the rocking “Soundtrack to Our Movie”, which was beautiful, energetic, heavy, and awesome all at the same time- which is awesome for any band.
I’ve seen Relient K five times already, from 2002 to now. This tour is the first in which band leader Matt Thiessen has seen fit to bring along a piano. It makes sense, as half the songs on their latest album mmhmm feature piano to some extent, and about 1/3rd of their previous release Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do also uses the ivories. So, to some fans, this was a sign of the end of RK’s true punk beginnings; to others, it was a glorious occasion that has been long waited for.
But the anti-piano kids were wrong. Relient K still rocks. From the second they got on stage, they put out a show so completely full of energy, power, poise, and style that it rivals ‘true’ punk bands. And when you can play a banjo in a punk set without going punkabilly (as they did in the crowd-leveling “Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”), you know that you’re onto something.
From the opening chords of “More that Useless”, they slammed through their strongest songs off of mmhmm with an unabashed gusto. Matt Thiessen, who was sick yet again (he often has vocal problems in Oklahoma- screw the stupid weather here), managed to switch between guitar and piano with no problem at all- even doing it several times per song, as he did on the stellar version of “High of 75”, the you-knew-it-was-coming “Be My Escape”, and the night-finishing “I So Hate Consequences”. The album-highlight “…Consequences” capped off an amazing performance, as the passion with which the band played was unrivaled. The audience screamed along, and the pure frustration, anger, and hopelessness of the song filled the room. It was infectious- and if that song never ended, I don’t think that anyone would have cared. The power that they set forth in the epic “…Consequences” even canceled out the fact that they didn’t play their hit “Pressing On”. But when Thiessen and company scream, you know they put it in there on purpose- and you know that there’s a catharsis going on, little by little.
It was awesome, no doubt about it- Relient K knows how to play a rock song, and they know how to turn a pop song, and they know how to work an audience. This show was the best I’ve ever seen them, and here’s to hoping they never slow down. Yes, here’s to those banjo-toting, piano-playing, sickly-voiced punks that know a little too much about growing up.
Band Name: Tyler Read
Album Name: The Light, The Glass, The Transparency
Best element: Emotional sound with catchy hooks
Label name: Unsigned
Band e-mail: email@example.com
What do you get when you combine deep emotion with catchy hooks? The answer is quite obvious – you get the Tyler Read CD The Light, The Glass, The Transparency. In combining the get-stuck-in-your-head melodies with the emotional intensity, Tyler Read effectively uses music not only as an emotional outlet, but as a creative outlet as well.
First and foremost, this CD is catchy without being overly poppy and repetitive. They are able to create catchy hooks without succumbing to the “bubblegum” sound of made-for-MTV punk bands. That’s not to say that Tyler Read doesn’t have what it takes to make it. This CD’s big hook song, “New Year”, would most likely own the radio waves if it were released as a single. If Tyler Read is going to make it big, however, it will be because they stayed true to their sound and did it on their own terms.
The beauty of The Light, The Glass, The Transparency is in the balance between catchiness and sincerity. The singer has the talent of feeding a lyric’s emotion through his vocal cords and into the ears of the listener. This is especially evident in songs “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “Heaven is Holding On”, both of which are slower, more intense songs. This balance of an intense yet familiar sound makes for a listening experience which is both moving and enjoyable.
Genre: Pop punk/Powerpop
Best Element: Catchy, upbeat tunes
Label: Haven Arts, Inc
Much of Trip’s lyrics consist of excessively suggestive, misogynistic, and juvenile subject matter. The first (and title) track, “Naked”, exemplifies this: “She took off her panties/And her big brassiere/she was standing there naked…” This undoubtedly catches an audience’s attention on shock value alone; however, long term attention and attraction may be saved for a juvenile and predominately male audience, while alienating more sophisticated audiences- as well as females. Other subjects covered are women who nag too much (“Blah Blah”), and g-strings being left behind (“G-String”).
To be fair, though, they do occasionally deviate from this oversexed content, with lyrics about being unsure of where you stand on political issues (“Open Ended”), seeking fame (“Nothing Special”), and unrequited love (“Scars”, “Indecision”, “All That She Wanted”). Unfortunately, much of this is clouded by, at times, sickeningly sing-songish rhymes – both in the “serious” songs as well as the more explicit ones. Examples include: “His life was nothing special till he won the lotto/…/the sky’s the limit is his motto” from “Nothing Special”, and “My head is pounding nothing’s clear/Was I just dreaming she was here/Something for me to find was laying on the floor/Her g-string from the night before” from “G-String”. Overall, when these guys are not lamenting their lack of sexual relationships, their ideas are pretty good – they would just benefit from some songwriting lessons to help them more effectively communicate their message.
It is in their music where the not-so-good rears its ugly head. Their music is, for the most part, upbeat and incredibly catchy. The more explicit the song is, the more catchy it is, so, rather unfortunately, the song gets stuck in your head- ridiculous lyrics and all. Also regrettably, while they are extremely good at orchestrating vocal harmonies, their overall sound is just as generic as every other band that gets their 15 minutes of MTV fame. This could be good if they’re just trying to make it to the top of the charts – but there is nothing truly groundbreaking to be found within this album.
The high point of this CD is the song “Scars”, which almost feels like it doesn’t fit on this album. This song is more somber, a little more personal, and a little more sensitive than the other songs. It doesn’t fall into that sing-songish rhyme scheme and is a nice break from the poppy, sexual theme which pervades.
Nevertheless, to do what Trip does, they are ballsy, and it has obviously earned them some notoriety as their music has been featured on the “Smallville” season 1 DVD and on MTV’s “Undressed”. Sure, this is a good CD to listen to if you don’t feel like thinking or taking things seriously, and it can be good for a laugh.
Band: Tragedy Andy
Album: It’s Never Too Late To Start Over
Best element: It ends, eventually.
Label: Pop-Smear Records (www.popsmearrecords.com)
Band E-mail: TragedyAndy@mindspring.com
I hope that no pre-teen girl ever hears of this band, because they will love it. This is Drive-Thru Records material: simple music, lyrics about heartbreak and suicide, and a maximum of six chords per song. This is music that is aimed at the lowest common denominator. This is the music that makes you questions people’s intentions in music.
The CD starts out with “Safe to Say”, a quick finger to some lost girlfriend, as is the second song, “Damsel”. “Arrival of Me” changes pace by talking about his own fuck-ups with this girl. The rest of the CD follows the same path. It seems to be one long story about this one lost girl; I think he needs to get over her.
As I looked though the CD booklet I saw that the bass player was the lead singer. Tell me how a band can put out music that has the most simplistic guitar parts I have ever heard when they only have to worry about doing the backing vocals? These guys aren’t musicians. They are overgrown kids who wanted to pick up some girls by playing music.
This CD came with a press release, which I always find helpful. This one just confused me. The main problem was that it was a different band in the picture. Four completely different guys were in the picture. Hopefully this is just Pop-Smear being stupid, like they are usually are, but the thing is that everything about these guys makes them look like a joke.
The worst thing this CD has is a hidden track that is about ten minutes long- 8 1/2 of which is blank. When you finally do get to the meat of the track it is the band making a prank phone call. The extra track makes the CD look 10 minutes longer than it is and is so immature that it takes away any respect I had for the band. Don’t waste you money on this one.
Band Name: Tarantula Dinner Party
Album Name: Have a Seat
Best element: A good introduction to the Friendly Psychic Records sound.
Genre: Subdued Pop
Label name: Friendly Psychics Music (www.friendlypsychicsmusic.com)
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friendly Psychics Music is actually just three very productive men: John Wenzel, Chris Jones, and Dan Miller. All of the records that are released on Friendly Psychics are somehow touched by one or more of these three, whether it’s the fleshed-out urban pop/folk of Upstate, the rolling psychedelia of Wicked Immigrant, Tarantula Dinner Party’s subdued pop, or any other band that pops out of the Psychics’ vault. Out of all the incarnations, I’m pretty sure that I like Tarantula Dinner Party the least.
I’m pretty sure that TDP is also the sparsest of all the incarnations. Occasionally relying on only guitars and minimal inclusions of other instruments, this release is hanging on threads to begin with, and unfortunately, those threads give way, as the guitars just aren’t enough to support this release. Subsequently, this EP goes flat.
The release is flat because it sounds flat- not tonewise, but tunewise. It sounds as if someone has stomped all over the spark that resided in these songs, relegating them to backroads roadkill. None of them particularly jump out at me as interesting- through various listens to this album, it just doesn’t grow on me like Wicked Immigrant’s mesmerizing landscapes do. When you’re in company with some astoundingly unique-yet-accessible Friendly Psychics releases, it needs to be stellar- and Tarantula Dinner Party just doesn’t cut it. “Flea Market Priest” is nice and smooth, but it’s nothing memorable- “You’re So Right” just doesn’t have the punch that makes Upstate so enjoyable.
This is the first Friendly Psychics release that I have not thoroughly enjoyed- I would have to say that “The Siege Committee” is the only track that really made me interested in this album. Go listen to “Reunion of Cynics” by Wicked Immigrant- it’s much better, and falls into mostly the same genre.
A Sign of the Times
Ah, yes: The computer failure. The inevitable sign of our times, that horrible disease that inflicts hopelessness, lost productiveness, and anger amongst so many- yes, it has hit the IC. Total computer death. Right before deadline, too. But never fear- our trooper Michael Schwartz is trickling in reviews as he can from other computers. Check back, as reviews will be added sporadically throughout the month.
Song: The Rolling Hills
Label: White Whalee
Bottom line: VERY good!
With stunning layered acoustic arrangement, scarce drumming and warm bass, “The Rolling Hills” definitely paints a picture reminiscent of its title. Female vocalist Savannah Buskin’s backup vocals are also a nice touch, softening the music and making it more diverse. Poorfolk’s music converses within itself as delicate acoustic guitars answer each other harmoniously. Their softness and subtlety are truly the defining characteristic. The redeeming quality, though, is the more complex finger picking and folk-ish sound that sets Poorfolk apart in the abundant world of run-of-the-mill “emo.”
Band: Norma Jean
Album: Oh God, The Aftermath
Label: Solid State Records
Bottom Line: Definitely some talent.
“Disconnecktie” is a 10-minute song, opening with a palm-muted ocean of sound for about 2 minutes. This intro sets the mood, leading into a very introspective set of vocals which match the guitars in dramatic effect. The simplicity that the next portion of the song produces seems empty, because the song could’ve gone a different way that could have displayed the bands talent more effectively. But overall, Norma Jean has written a quality song worthy of some of your time.
What about a Book?
I just got a book. “Yee-haw, it’s a book,” you’re thinking. Well, not exactly- this book is the best book I’ve come across in years. It’s called Revolutions on Canvas and I am hoping that 75% of the people reading this have heard of this book and half of you have it. But anyway, Revolutions is an anthology of poetry and prose written by underground artists. It’s un-edited, raw, and all of it is ripped straight out of the notebooks of our favorite underground artists. The great part about this book is that it is not a collection of pre-writing for songs but truly the poetry that these guys write when they are stuck in a van or in some diner in the middle of Shitsville, USA.
The book opens with two forewords, one by John Payne, an English professor at Cyprus College, praising the books’ publishers, Ad Astra, for donating fifty percent of the profits to The National Center for Family Literacy. The other, written by Rusty Pistachio of H2O, talks about his first experience with punk rock and the potency of the lyrics. Although the two writers come from very different backgrounds they both open the book up very well, showing what a single book or writing can do for a person.
I first came across this book a little less than a year ago. It had just come out and the friend who first introduced me to underground rock gave it to me and said, “Read every fucking page”. I did and I loved it. We would sit together, him with his guitar, me with my bass, jamming and talking about this book, about what poems could be songs, about what Scott Gross meant when he titled his submission “Male Hooker in a Bathtub.” I always meant to get the book but never did because I was either broke or I couldn’t find it- usually both. My friend and I fell out of touch and that friend is now throwing his life away on pot and cocaine, so I consider this book almost a memorial to him.
With poems by Scott Gross of FATA, Bob Nanna of Hey Mercedes, Jonathon Newby of Brazil, and many more, you know this is awesome.
To get a copy order it from your favorite bookstore or your best bet may be to go to Ad Astra’s website at www.adastrabooks.com.
When you get your copy read “Logic” by Jonathon Newby, Bob Nanna’s prose on vocal well-being and “It’s Hard to be Spontaneous and Kickass…” by Justin Pierre; but make sure you read “every fucking page”.
Band Name: Over It
Album Name: Timing is Everything
Best element: Old School Punk nods.
Label name: Lobster Records (www.lobsterrecords.com)
Band e-mail: email@example.com
When I hear Over It, I feel a need to go to my record store and strategically place their album Timing is Everything in front of sucky albums by mediocre bands such as Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Hoobastank, Ashlee Simpson, et al. Why? It is simply because Over It actually lives up to their genre description and encompasses both the furious, irate punk ideals and the hummable melodies of pop.
From beginning to end, this album is characterized by quick-paced, abrasive guitar lines and the desperate vocals of Peter Munters. The guitars here are good- and I mean good. They’re heavy, fast, and often angry- all the things that punk started out to be. There are occasional forays into generic pop-punk (“Nothing Serious”, “Thrill Seeker”), but they most often stay in their groove as a heavy punk band. The best guitar track here is the dissonant, restrained “Worry Bomb”, where they find the perfect balance between emotional restraint and punk guitar onslaught. It stands head and shoulders above the rest for the very fact that restraint is in effect for the verses- it makes the chorus that much more bombastic.
The vocals are stellar as well- and no, they aren’t your average pop-punk vocals. Trust me, I’m tired of that high pitched whine as well. No, Peter Munter has command of a great range, spanning creepy low tones (“Fall”) and controlled wails that give me shivers (“Worry Bomb”).
The downside to this album is that the formula doesn’t often change; but then again, when the sledgehammer that is “Limiter” bursts out of your stereo, you forget that you had that complaint. It’s a great way to pass a road trip, and it’s infinitely better than the punk crap that’s been killing the radio lately. This is an old release, by the way- their new one, Silverstrand, is coming out pretty much as soon as this review is released (March 9).
The Hard Music Handbook
My brother is just getting into independent music, and recently he brought up a point that has long frustrated me about loud music in the independent scene.
“Indie, Emo, Hardcore, Hard Rock, Grunge, Metal….why are there so many titles? I can’t even figure out what I’m listening to any more!” he vented. I simply nodded my head without mentioning that there’s even more genres, thanks to the fact that I haven’t confused him with metalcore, post-hardcore, and emocore yet.
There are too many genre names. I’m going to explain, to the best of my knowledge, everything that I know about these genres. Someone’s going to lambast me. A lot of someones. But until I’m proven wrong, I can never know I was wrong. So here we go. Genres:
Metalcore: Has a core sound of Metal, but throws in some non-metal ideas, such as hardcore breakdowns (we’ll get to those in a minute), melodic pretty sections, and other stuff. Unearth, Atreyu, and many other underground bands fall in this category. It’s the fastest growing (and if you talk to indie snobs, the fastest dying) genre around.
Hardcore: The granddaddy of all hard music genres. When hair metal was taking over in the late 70’s, early 80’s, so was hardcore. Hardcore is the loudest genre around (except Grindcore, but I hardly consider that music, due to the fact its main objective is to instill violent moshing instead of say anything) because it fuses together super heavy guitars, manic screaming/yelling, furious drumming, and shotgun-blast tempos.If it’s not screaming or yelling, it’s not hardcore. The songs are usually short, and the bands often have something political to say. The Number 12 Looks Like You, Yaphet Kotto, Orchid, Mohinder, Give Up the Ghost and numerous others are in the hardcore scene.
Posi-core: Positive hardcore. These guys play hardcore with lyrics that aren’t about sadness, anger, or politics- or at least, not the pessimistic side of those topics. Stretch Arm Strong leads this subgenre.
Post-Hardcore: Takes all the fury of hardcore, and runs it through an artsy filter- the tempos are much slower and the guy still yells, in one scenario. The other scenario is moments of pure hardcore followed by moments that completely aren’t. MeWithoutYou is the best post-hardcore band I know of, and their first album “[A—>B”> Life” proves it. Their singer trashes his voice constantly- even though the music makes dynamic shifts from hardcore to rock to indie rock to not really anything classifiable. Other bands include up and comers On The Might of Princes, Devices in Shift, and In the Arms of Providence.
Punk-core: Combining punky guitar riffs with hardcore breakdowns and/or hardcore guitar with punky breakdowns. Boys Night Out, The Tokyo Smash.
Emo: stands for Emotional Hardcore. This is what happened when Hardcore kids grew up a little and decided that they didn’t always have to play fast, and they didn’t always have to be angry. This is loud, torrential music that is a lot like hardcore, only it isn’t as angry. The singers aren’t always political, and while they most always scream/yell, sometimes they break down into a wail which resembles sung vocals. Sometimes they even sing, but that music still has to be loud, dissonant, and punchy. Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, Indian Summer, The Shivering…
New-wave Emo: Someone took the term ‘emotional’ and ran away with it. New School emo came from punk- it’s harder, darker punk music, but it’s never that loud. Characterized by whiny singers, cliché vocals about love (mostly unrequited), and a really poser image (we want to be hardcore, but we don’t have the guts to be!). Think Taking Back Sunday, Thursday (although they have a lot more credibility than TBS), My Chemical Romance, Brand New, et al.
Emocore: This title is disgusting. There is no such thing as emocore, because emo itself is a dilution of hardcore. So now we have a dilution of a dilution? Cry me a river and call yourselves rock.
Grunge: I met a kid who didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was the other day. It made me sad. Anyway, most people think Nirvana started grunge and ended grunge, and to that credit, they’d mostly be right. But in between, a lot of bands sprung up, all thinking mostly the same thing: grunge is pop music played really loud and really distorted. This is why all grunge bands are great acoustically- they are essentially very loud pop bands, and if you take away the loudness, you’ve just got a pop band. And really unique ones at that- Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Bush (although some wouldn’t call them true grunge).
Post-grunge: All that hard rock that’s saturating your radio. These guys follow the same idea as grunge (loud, distorted pop), only they don’t do it as well as the originals did. Turn on your radio to find out what post-grunge is, but you’ve got your Chevelle, Nickelback, Letter Kills, Deftones….
Hard Rock: see post-grunge.
And there you have it. Be enlightened. E-mail us if you see something dumb. We’re not afraid.
-Stephen Carradini, with contributions by Scott Landis.