Friday, September 9th, 2005
The Early November / Houston Calls / A Day at the Fair / The Progress / The Commercials
The Championship, Lemoyne, PA
I think the best way to start this review would to be to tell you all how much I have to say, yet how very, very little at the same time. And by that, I mean I have little to say about the musical content of the show (save for the tremendous performance put forth by the headliner, The Early November) and much to say about the behavior of the audience.
I have to admit that going into this show that I expected the opening acts to not be great, but this…this was an atrocity for the most part. Now granted, I do enjoy four bands on Drive-Thru’s roster, those being The Early November, I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business (which is the lead singer, Ace, from The Early November’s side project), Hidden in Plain View, and Halifax. However, for the most part, most of the bands on Drive-Thru all play the same brand of horribly generic and watered down pop-punk/rock as mainstream bands like Simple Plan. This, my friends, is what I was subjected to for around 2 and a half hours before I could hear the band I came to see. I know; your ears are bleeding as you read this. Step one: remove scissors. Step two: continue reading.
The first to take the stage were The Commercials, who are somewhat of a staple of indie rock around these parts. I don’t find their music terrible by any means, I just find it to be rather formulaic and over-done. Part of this may stem from the fact that I’ve seen them play about a gazillion times in the past couple years. However, the bassist is the owner of the venue at which the show was taking place, so he can effectively pick and choose which bands for which his band will open. With this in mind, I found it almost inappropriate that he added his own band to the lineup of the already 4 bands playing that evening, bringing the total band count to five, which is at least one too many in my opinion. Despite being on medication for my whole lack of attention span thing, that’s still definitely pushing it.
After them, a band from New Jersey called The Progress played. I wish I could tell you more about their performance, but I think that I fell asleep standing up somewhere between the first and second song. My sleep was intermittedly interrupted only by the shrieking of a middle school age girl behind me that apparently thought it was cool to scream things to the band like ‘EVAN YOU SUCK!’ then add more shrieks and some giggles. Ok. That’s nice and all that you’re supposedly friends with the band, but really, I could care less. And yes, you were right, random obnoxious preteen screaming at the back of my head and flailing your arms around in a futile attempt to get the lead singers attention! The Progress DID suck.
Next in this evening’s simply stellar line-up was A Day at the Fair, who sounded almost exactly like the last band. In fact, if I was blind, I probably would have thought that it was the same band playing and asked for my money back. I think the only reason that I considered them marginally better than the band prior to them was that I did not have any obnoxious girls screaming in my ears during their set. Might I also add that by this point, it was so hot in the venue that sweat was literally running down into my eyes and blurring my contacts. As a result, half the time I had no idea what I was shooting and just had to point the camera in the general direction of the sound and moving blobs on the stage and hope for the best.
By the time Houston Calls took the stage, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of ‘THANK GOD THIS IS THE LAST BAND BEFORE THE EARLY NOVEMBER!’ While they were not excellent by any standards (unless you were the fifteen year old standing behind me and screaming during The Progress’s set), they were the best of the opening bands for one reason: the crazy Asian guy playing keyboards. I’m not sure if it was the constantly smiling Asian, or the addition of the keyboards, or a combination of both, but they definitely gave their sound something to make them stand out from the verse chorus verse chorus bands that played prior to them.
Finally, after what seemed like approximately one week, three days, four hours and seventeen minutes, the much anticipated Early November took the stage and I was glad that I stuck around for their performance. The whole band’s stage presence was amazing, from their nearly uniform long sleeve dress shirts, ties, and woolen dress pants (despite the intense heat) to their almost brutal guitar swinging antics. For those few of you who have not been blessed enough to hear this band, they sound like a cross between Death Cab for Cutie, Braid, and Elliot. Despite the sometimes demure sound to their music, they played a majority of their more upbeat songs to which some of the kids present started moshing to, for some unknown reason. In addition to this unorthodox behavior, several girls also decided to sit on the stage, which is unacceptable and usually results in getting knocked out with any random instrument accidentally swung in that direction. However, the only consequence of their actions was that their lovely blonde locks of hair were in nearly all of my pictures.
Since The Early November is releasing a three disc set in March or thereabouts, they played several songs off of that, but managed to play mostly the crowd favorites off their older releases so everyone could sing along. By the time their set was over, they were all dripping with sweat and visibly exhausted, but happy. Even though the opening bands had something to be desired (namely talent), the evening was worth it only for the heart-wrenching performance put forth by The Early November. However, crazy screaming girl had better watch her step.
Best Element: It’s Braille; there is no best element, it’s just great.
Genre: Mellow Indie rock
Label Name: Common Cloud
Band E-mail: email@example.com
I love Braille. There, you have my bias: this is one of my favorite indie-rock bands. I think I heard about them early in 2004 but kind of lost track of them until I opened my package of CDs a few weeks ago and found their full length debut from Common Cloud Records in the pile. I was excited even before I listened to the album. Once I put the album in, I melted.
Thin Cities[u/”> opens with Thax Douglas reciting his poetry. For those who don’t know who he is, Douglas is the rock poet laureate for Chicago; he presents bands at shows by reciting poetry before they come on stage. His stuff generally has a mellow but profound tone to it, which sets up the mood for this album.
It’s really hard to describe this album- it’s an experience just listening to it. Each song sucks you in and makes you think about yourself or the world. Each song is laced with driving guitar and bass, eloquent drumming, and many of the songs are played with a violin and cello backing. Braille seems to be a band of minimalists who put their individual minimalist works together to develop a complex and beautiful product.
This is an album that must be experienced- words themselves truly can not explain how deep and meaningful each song is. If you only buy one album this year, make it Thin Cities[u/”>. It’s a bunch of great guys who are making great music.
P.S. Common Cloud is the coolest record label ever. Common Cloud has three bands signed and all three of them are amazing.
Sometimes you just don’t expect much out of a submission and you’re blown away by what actually comes out of that submission.
Candid’s “Faking My Death for You” is a very enjoyable single. The instrumentals show a maturity and quality that you usually don’t see in the genre. The sung vocals are reminescent of Claudio’s (Coheed and Cambria) without giving you the feeling Brian Hoppe stole the style. Though vocals leave a little to be desired, I truly believe that a higher-quality recording will resolve any worries. Throughout the song you can hear influences from Senses Fail, Finch and Coheed but there is definitely an individualist’s spin on a dying style.
I wish I could say more about Candid but there is only so much you can say about a single song. I really hope to hear more from these guys, as they seem to have something good going here.
Best element: Brilliant songwriting.
Genre: Indie Rock/emo
Label name: –
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let me preface this review by saying this: Courage Riley is broken up. The band has moved on to other musical pursuits, with some members playing in the Astro Magnetics artist Baumer and others in a band named The Daylight Hours. It is safe to say that none of the ‘current projects’ will have the same magnificent chemistry, thorough emotional punch, and all-around strength that Courage Riley did- because Courage Riley was, hands down, one of the top ten independent bands I have ever had the pleasure of discovering. Probably even top five.
Why, you may ask? For this simple reason: Courage Riley conveyed emotion brilliantly. Their songs are so well-written that when you listen to songs like “Ashes” or “Captains of Industry”, you can hear the sentiments behind the song: the passion, the yearning, the dissatisfaction. Every piece of the sound plays a part in putting forth the message- not just the guitars, and not just the vocals. Every piece was vital to Courage Riley- and that’s why they conveyed emotion better than anyone.
But they didn’t start out that way. All That’s Left is a complete discography, and it’s a very interesting listen to forge all the way through this disc in one sitting. The first four tracks of the disc are from their self-titled EP- and while they bear all the hallmark C+R traits, the songs are not spectacular by any means. The best track is the opener “Mexico”, which introduces us to the uniquely memorable voice of David Adedokun, their jangly-but-still-rocking guitar sound, and their spot-on mood shifts and complexities- all of which show up all throughout this discography. Even though these songs are more complex than your average rock band’s, the self-titled EP is not anywhere close to the skill with which they would possess later.
A split is next, and while it only has two songs from this era of C+R, these two songs are the most rocking songs on the entire album. Both “Spring Hill Assembly” and “Captains of Industry” are dark, low, and fast-paced- creating a tense, dense sound that flows very easily. The vocals here start to experiment more, as “Captains of Industry” features a group-yell part, a gripping spoken word section, and one of the first wordless soaring vocal lines that would come to be yet another harbinger of their sound. The epic “Captains of Industry” is one of their best songs on the entire album, as the frustration of the subject matter flows through the guitar and bass lines with perfect clarity.
Their only full-length release is next on the album, and while it is a big jump in their sound’s maturity, it’s not the final destination. The first sound heard on opening track “You’ll Always Remember” is a piano- which is something entirely new for C+R. The piano defines the full-length (re)Defining the Relationship, as it adds an entire new layer of depth to C+R’s already full sound. It’s not even used very much throughout the album, but the fact that there is piano is a sign that they’ve become more melody-centric and less rock-centric. Songs like “Letters to Write”, “Praise Be”, and “The Loudest” are first truly beautiful songs that secondly culminate in majestic, rapturous sections of rock- combining their innate senses of melody with their emotional connections in a way that’s truly entrancing. The drums play a large part in directing the sound in this album, which is a new improvement for them as well.
By this time, C+R is a indie-rock machine, churning out 5-7 minute epics that just drop listeners’ jaws. Their wild, churning sound is truly incredible- and yet the best song on this album is the closer “As Snow”: a mellow, beautiful song that strips away all of the noise and puts forth pure, untainted melody.
But their best output is the three unreleased tracks that close out the album- a sort of posthumous EP. All of the best aspects of Courage Riley are realized- innate sense of melody, beautiful mellow sections, rocking out, soaring vocals, interwoven instrumental lines, and an earnestness to pull it all off. All three of the final tracks are epics in their own right, with the highlight being the closer “Ashes”: a long, enveloping track that closes with the repeated vocal line “Ashes to ashes, dawn to dusk!” while the band pummels away and a second vocal line soars. It’s a self-eulogy- an amazingly powerful self-eulogy.
Courage Riley is emotion. All of these songs convey an emotion so powerful that it had to escape. They did it better than everyone else does, and while it’s depressing to see them go out on top, it’s better than seeing them become a shadow of what they once were. You can still get a copy of this album, and if you’re into epic indie-rock, like Wilco or Radiohead or Modest Mouse or any of that- Courage Riley is the one that got away.
Band Name: Evan Goodberry
Album Name: The Middle of The World
Best Element: Cool vocals and instrumental harmonies.
Label Name: N/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
In his debut album The Middle of The World, Evan Goodberry incorporates mellow, almost Simon and Garfunkel-ish vocals to make this one of the better albums I have listened to in a long time. Soothing vocals and trance-like melodies- what more could you want in an excellent acoustic/folk/indie record?
Evan Goodberry has a sound like no other, as his relaxing music is very simple yet very detailed. The majority of the songs feature just Evan and his guitar- and because it’s not too crowded with instruments, this is a very unique album. The vocals are soft, and the guitar parts sing the melody. It is all you could ever want in an acoustic album.
Although the vocals are excellently written, that cannot change the fact that the songs start to sound the same- I felt myself becoming bored with the music about half way through the album. For the most part, the minimalist songs are enough for you to casually enjoy, but in some cases there is not enough going on during the song to hold you to it.
Other than that flaw, I really enjoyed The Middle of The World. It’s been a while since someone put out a good solo acoustic album, and this is one of the most relaxing CDs I have heard in a long time. If you enjoy good folk-style acoustic music, then check out Evan Goodberry’s The Middle of The World.
Band Name: Fall of Transition
Album Name: This is the Love You Hate
Best Element: Quality song writing
Genre: Emotional indie-rock
Label Name: Evo Records
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A second release is a great indicator of a band’s potential for success. Putting out one quality CD is a difficult task in and of itself, but to be able to create two masterpieces is an exponentially more daunting task. With This is the Love You Hate, Fall of Transition has risen to the occasion.
With this sophomore effort, Fall of Transition shows that they are the same incredibly talented band from before, but now with an even more mature and cohesive sound. From start to finish, This is the Love You Hate is full of outstanding writing paired with music evocative of heartache and sadness. The mood is set right away with an instrumental intro, and is gently released at the end of the CD with an instrumental track. In between, there is a lyrical and musical sincerity to each song that hits you right in the heart.
While the lyrics on Fall of Transition’s first self-titled EP were incredible, the lyrics on This is the Love You Hate are even more impressive. The song which stands out the most is Violent, a song which, prior to the release of this CD, was featured in a brilliant acoustic version on the band’s PureVolume page. In a show of talent, the CD version is just as outstanding. The music has a somber tone to match the subject of the song, and the lyrics, full of juxtaposed images, are poetic and beautiful. Listening to “Violent” feels like you are looking at snapshots of the life of the songwriter, feeling his pain.
Fall of Transition’s level of honesty is bold and daring. They put everything on the line emotionally, and they deserve any recognition they receive for their effort.
Band Name: Inspector Owl
Album Name: Patterns of Nerve Cell Action
Best Element: Quirky influences create an exciting sound.
Genre: Dance-ish Indie Rock
Label Name: Oh Nona Records (http://ohnonarecords.com)
Band E-mail: email@example.com
As we speak, there is a bar in the Midwest that the members of Inspector Owl are in, drinking cheap beer and waxing intellectual about movies, music, and books. These kinds of people usually make really great music for the sake that they’ve been doing so since early high school out of boredom. I know this because this 6 song EP told me. Patterns… sounds like the type of album that was made by people who listen to a lot of music that can’t be found at the local Wal-Mart. There are traces of old Modest Mouse, Troubled Hubble, and even some influence from Neutral Milk Hotel’s indie pop extravagance. There are dance beats. There are grooving baselines. There are also acoustic guitars. And in this extravagance, you find a certain amount of honesty that reveals itself as the album goes further on.
It is at the 6th and final song of the EP, entitled “This Song is About Space”, that Inspector Owl really hit stride and pull all their strongest assets together. A simple piano line plays in the background, synths fill out the rhythm, and a strong vocal melody lies over top. Then, as to give the listener a breath of hope and triumph, huge choruses of voices come in singing and a beautiful violin enters underneath them.
Inspector Owl is a band that still has its best work ahead of them and this 6 song EP makes me excited to hear what’s next from this Midwestern trio.
Band Name: Jack’s Mannequin
Album Name: This Is a Story (Single)
Best Element: Very catchy songs.
Label Name: Maverick Records (www.maverickrecords.com)
Band E-mail: N/a
I will be the first to admit that I don’t like the normal pop-punk bands that are everywhere, but Jack’s Mannequin is one that I will listen to for years to come. They are one of the best project bands I have heard in a long time, as the lead singer from Something Corporate pulls Jack’s Mannequin together to make them a very solid band.
The opener “Mixed Tape” is an extremely catchy tune- one of those songs that will get stuck in your head for days. Its staggered drum beats make the song different from the standard 1,2,3,4 pattern in most other pop-punk songs. Another feature that caught my attention was the very pleasant use of a piano throughout all three songs. Although many newer recordings feature a keyboard, the real piano sound playing the melodies gives the music a certain texture that can’t be beat. With this idea, Jack’s Mannequin achieves a sound that reminds me of Relient K and Ben Folds.
On the other hand, I am not a fan of generic music- music that falls neatly into a specific genre. I feel bands that to create something new, bands must incorporate multiple styles into their music. This is one of the shortcomings of Jack’s Mannequin: their California summer music follows suit with all the other artists in the pop-punk category.
Jack’s Mannequin is a good project band that draws people into their music with catchy tunes and innovative instrumental arrangements. Besides some minor drug references and “off-color” language, This Is a Story is a very clean-cut, if not exactly groundbreaking, record. You should try them- who knows? You might like them.
Band Name: Josh Caress
Album Name: Letting Go of a Dream
Best element: Strong command of layers and mood.
Genre: Indie songwriter
Label name: –
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some genres are trendy—fads like nu-wave emo, pop-punk, and post-grunge that have all come into their own in the past ten years. As soon as the media binge on those genres stops, bands will stop forming in those genres. The only bands that will play post-grunge in twenty years will be hardcore believers in the sound of post-grunge, which is the way I think it should be.
But there are a few genres that are consistently bloated—and the genre of singer/songwriter is the easy choice for that crown. That’s why it’s so exciting to me when a singer/songwriter of true merit comes along- an artist bucking the trends, ignoring the naysayers, and putting full faith in what they’re doing. Josh Caress is one of those rare songwriters.
By no means is Josh Caress’ debut album Letting Go of a Dream perfect- there are moments when his low, Dylan-esque voice warbles so much that it feels wrong (“A Summer Night When We Were Young”), sections of lyrics that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor (The musically excellent “The Bus Shot Through the Night and I Believed”), as well as a little bit of musical narcissism (the excessive length of “A Summer Night…”), but on the whole, this album is a dramatic statement from a new artist.
Josh Caress’ emphasis isn’t on virtuoso guitar playing or perfect vocals or immaculate production. Caress’ emphasis is on the mood of the songs he writes. This album flows beautifully, and although there’s a song here or there that doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest, the flaw can be ignored when you see how it connects to the rest of the songs in the context of the album.
“Sally’s on My Side” is the song to hear if you want to know what Josh Caress is about. It starts off with a muffled, distant electronic beat until a simple electric guitar strum comes in. A world-weary, downtrodden voice comes in, accompanied by an acoustic guitar on top of all that already is. The chorus brings in another layer of guitar and a tambourine. And it’s still quite mellow. The next verse brings in a far-off drumbeat and a doubled vocal. The song is building and building, and the changes flow right. The song surges upward in a crescendo until the very end when Caress takes his vocals up an octave over pounding layers of music, in a beautifully cathartic cry of “Wish you never loved him, wish he never hurt you!” Then the song drops back to its beginnings, with a simple beautiful guitar strum and an electronic beat.
All of these songs funnel the themes of loss, regret, and hopeful optimism through motifs of stars, night, wind, travel, and many more. The sound is lush, full, and beautiful- a legato indie-pop orchestra. From the tenderly forlorn “Opening Theme” to the final dying chords of “Letting Go of a Dream”, this album is beautiful.
I was once told to listen to a copy of Confusion Ends.’ album Hello, I’m Noah while riding a city bus. I was told that you would never feel more alive then to watch life pass while listening to the music. I’m telling you this: You will never feel more alive then when you listen to Josh Caress while watching life go by. The beauty in the CD makes life seem so much more beautiful than it is. Or maybe it unlocks the beauty that life already has.
I love to dance. Any type of dancing, in fact. Waltz, tango, salsa, disco, skanking, I’ll do it all. But there’s a special place in my heart for concert dancing- the spontaneous, arm-flailing, head-nodding, butt-shakin’, get-down-cause-the-music-says-so type dancing. Thankfully, a movement is finally reaching our starved ears in Oklahoma of bona-fide indie rockers concerned with making you dance. First, Mon Frere’s excellent debut EP crossed my desk, then I saw Ice Nine play a show at my local venue, and now Mommy and Daddy’s sophomore album Duel at Dawn is hitting my ears. Out of all of those, I think that Mommy and Daddy make me want to dance the most.
To get this out of the way: yes, this is a duo; yes, they are married; no, they don’t have kids; they got their name from telling their cat “Not now, Mommy and Daddy are practicing.” They’re extremely prolific, and they spend half of their time living in NYC and the other half on the road. That should get all the logistics out of the way.
Their music is off the charts on the cool factor. Consisting solely of programmed drums, extremely fuzzed-out bass, keys, Vivian Sarratt’s squawking vocals, and Edmond Hallas’s harmony vocals, they make hand-clapping, frenzy-inducing, sing-as-loud-as-you can adrenaline music. From the pulse-pounding, hand-clapping “Pretty Loser” to the charmingly hilarious bonus track, there is not a single dull moment on this nearly 40-minute album. Every song reveals a new shade of Mommy and Daddy, whether it be the infectious power of Vivian Sarratt’s squawk/yell (“Pretty Loser”), Sarratt’s ability to actually sing (“A Good Deal”), the band’s ability to create sonic chaos (the ear-splitting “Full”), their use of odd aesthetics (“Cops”), or their tendency to just rock out awesomely (“Lost the Plot”). Their sound is expansive as well- from short, hit-you-in-the-face-and-move-on rockers (“Franconia Road”), to long, nearly epic songs (“Way West Way”)- from fast songs (“Pretty Loser”) to slow songs (“So Far, So Good”) to mid-tempo songs (“The Streets Have Come Alive”). In short, everything you could ever want in a dance-rock album is here. Add on the bonuses of being dirty as the ground you walk on and sexy as you wish you could be- and you’ve got gold.
There is nothing to knock on this album. They’ve got their core sound down, they’ve expanded upon it in every direction, it’s catchy, it’s fun, it rocks. It’ll make you dance. It’ll make you yell. It’s gotta be one of the best live shows ever. The creativity encapsulated on this album is truly unbelievable- there is literally not a single track that doesn’t just ooze with it. It seems that I’ve been had once again- I said that there was nothing better happening in the indie world than Mon Frere, and I was proved wrong by Mommy and Daddy. In the same genre, no less. I hope someone is laughing- cause I have to say this: Mommy and Daddy are at the top of their game, and that puts them at the top of indie rock.
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.