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Month: March 2007

Gone for Worse

Gone for Worse

The most frustrating thing that comes of being passionate about independent musicians’ fierce creativity and relentless fire is that the ferocity often turns inward and the fire consumes. I can’t tell you how many bands have broken up that I wanted to see just one more time, or that – tragedy of all tragedies – I never got to see at all.

I was reminded of this fact this month as I continued to mourn the loss of Mon Frere, a band I had high hopes for. I’ve raved their two releases – the short, punchy, astounding Real Vampires EP and the slightly long-winded but impressive Blood, Sweat, and Swords LP. Contained in each is some of the tightest, dirtiest, heaviest, danciest real music there is. Call it pop, call it pop/rock, call it dance-rock, but when I hear “You Don’t Mind” and its swaggering, syncopated guitar line, I am sad that I was never able to air-guitar my way through the song in concert. When I hear the frantic, nearly deranged call-and-response that happens in the middle of “R.V.D.G.S.”, I am sad that I can’t be part of the clapping crowd that forms the backdrop to the stabbing, stomping guitar line. Yes, a band can be stabbing and stomping at the same time. Mon Frere did it.

I never saw Mon Frere live. It deeply pains me, and what’s worse is that this type of band won’t ever embark on a reunion tour. Maybe a one-off reunion show, but how am I, a true Midwesterner, going to get to Seattle on a lark? Am I that dedicated to the memory of Mon Frere? We’ll see – if the show ever surfaces.

But this ever-present sadness was exacerbated by the fact that I read a brilliant book in the 33 1/3 series titled In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which is about the circumstances that surrounded the creation, recording, touring, and aftermath of one of my favorite albums.

Now, I feel kind of trite even mentioning this. One reason is that I hate being a hipster. Another reason is that I feel I’m about 8 years too late to be writing this. A third is that Jeff Mangum probably would prefer me to stop talking about him.

But you know what? I never got to see Neutral Milk Hotel live. After repeated listens, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea continues to excite and trouble me, especially upon hearing it on vinyl for the first time at a friend’s place. So I will lament that fact. I apologize for offending anyone, be it the reclusive genius himself or his hardcore followers who honor his memory by never wishing that he release more music (is that a paradox?). It makes me sad to know that I can never look forward to seeing NMH.

It’s just one of the things that comes with the territory – if they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Or for worse, as the case may be.

-Stephen Carradini

Ferocious Eagle-The Sea Anemone Inside of Me is Mighty

ferociouseagle Ferocious EagleThe Sea Anemone Inside of Me is Mighty

This indie/progressive/noise band encompasses the meaning of the word originality.

Fifty-Four, Forty or Fight

There is an old saying that goes: “WHAT THE F*CK?!?” And clearly the members of Portland, Oregon’s Ferocious Eagle have studied these ancient words, as they are applied excessively on their recently released The Sea Anemone Inside of Me is Mighty. The word strange would be a drastic understatement in trying to describe any of the 12 songs on this album. Yet for the most part the three gents in this band somehow manage to hold it all together despite constantly being on the brink of bursting at the seams and unleashing nothing but musical noise and nonsense.

Like the music, the band’s line up is slightly off-kilter with the lack of bassist: Ferocious Eagle consists of two guitarists and a drummer. The lack of low-end is present at times but is not something that is detrimental to the band’s sound. The two guitarists, Dalbey and Anderson, are good at keeping things busy with a nice variety of guitar parts interchanging between the two of them. Eric Jensen is the man behind the kit, and like his co-workers he understands dynamics to the fullest extent. The three members have a tightly wound chemistry which would be a pre-requisite for this genre(s) of tunes.

As opposed to attempting to describe this album’s sound in detail, it is more realistic that I forewarn anyone who has a “mainstream” bone in their body to avoid this CD at all costs. You WILL NOT find gratification after a mere one listen and will only end up cursing the gods of music.

However, bands like Ferocious Eagle aren’t aiming to please folks with MTV in their eyes. They are searching for folks like you on who look for deeply gratifying and artistic music (After all, that is why you are on this website, right? …RIGHT?).

Everything can be heard on this album, from subtle melodies to chaotic dissonance to circus music – even if you only hear them for seconds at a time. Other than the lack of low-end, the only real downfall may be the cluttered production. I do, however, realize anyone who attempts to produce such a dysfunctional musical conglomerate would likely experience the same issues without going well over a reasonable production budget. And these minor quirks only further add to the distinction of the Ferocious Eagle sound(s).

My personal favorite tracks would have to be “Be Not Weary, Be Not

Weak,” for the circus meets indie-folk, “Dinosaur,” for going from catchy to spazztastic noise, and “Rape Whistle” just for being what it is.

Will Ferocious Eagle ever break into the limelight? I’m gonna have to go out on a limb and say no. But will folks searching for something with a little more originality than your standard affair be pleased? I’m gonna have to say yes on this one…but don’t let me be the judge. Only you can decide if this stimulates your senses, and I urge you to prepare yourselves for 12 songs of musical debauchery.

-Josh Hogan

Even So-The Distance Is Less If You Never Leave

evensoEven SoThe Distance Is Less If You Never Leave

Immediately enjoyable, literate indie-rock.

Reviewing music is risky business. The reviewer is called upon to make some grand pronouncement about the merit of art made by others. It can be awkward to write reviews of CDs that, quite frankly, aren’t great.
The writing of this review will not be marred by any such awkwardness.
Even So’s The Distance is Less If You Never Leave begins with a literate, radio-friendly indie rock gem, “Farewell to Thee, Submariner!” and rapidly rocks, rolls, and alludes its way into the heart and onto the playlists of even the most discerning listener.
Even So is very similar to The Decemberists in lyrical quality, only they replace pirates with Jacque Cousteau and Henrik Ibsen. No bandits here either, but there is a song on this album that may well be about a circus accident.
This CD is wonderful. It’s a quirky, well-written, musically pleasing bundle of idiosyncrasies. The Distance is Less If You Never Leave is an album that, quite unlike the work of The Decemberists, is not an acquired taste, nor is it one of those albums that can only be enjoyed under a very specific set of circumstances.
The Distance is Less If You Never Leave is full of catchy melodies, tight percussion and memorable turns of phrase. Watch for Even So to break out of the vibrant Baltimore scene onto a national stage. These guys are going to be big.

-Brian Burns

Duet All Night Long EP

duetallnightReel Big Fish/ Zolof the Rock and Roll DestroyerDuet All Night Long EP

Ska/pop with tremendously novel entertainment value

ReIgnition Recordings

Duet All Night Long is a 6-song EP that is nothing short of genius: take the legendary 90s ska revival band Reel Big Fish, team them up with indie rockers Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer and let them pick six songs they want to cover. What you get is a meeting of the musical minds that is not only novel, but also incredibly fun to listen to.

Let me put your mind at ease, dear reader, before I go any further. Duet All Night Long is not just another compilation of stale cover songs put out to increase sales. Rather, it is a refreshing mixture of remakes that get you dancing in your living room (or other location of choice). You get pop and ska influence, talent and familiarity wrapped into one.

This EP is aptly named, as Reel Big Fish vocalist Aaron Barrett and Zolof vocalist Rachel Minton trade off vocals on each song, creating some really cool male/female vocal harmonies. Beyond this, the songs mainly showcase Reel Big Fish’s ska sound while infusing Zolof’s infectious pop influence, evident in song choices like Madonna’s “Dress You Up.”

The best track on the EP is the cover of Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch,” coming so close to the original that I was surprised it was a cover the first time I heard it. In a blog from the MySpace page created to promote the EP, Aaron says this was intentional because “it is perfect the way it is, and [we”> really didn’t want to ruin a classic.” He follows up by joking that they ruined it anyway, but their version does justice an already wonderful song.

Choosing their Fishbone cover as the best song was a tough decision, with the second best being their cover of “Ask,” my favorite song by The Smiths. Their treatment of the song gives it a ska twist while keeping the smooth vocals and overall mood intact. Both bands do a great job of adding their own flavor to a modern classic.

These two tracks are the “great” and the “really good” of the EP, and there is also the “unique” – a cover of “It’s Not Easy” from the Disney movie “Pete’s Dragon.” Yes, it’s cheesy and sappy, but it’s also oh-so-fun to find yourself sitting there, singing along to a Disney song with a smile on your face.

While it may be a little early to decide, without a doubt, Duet All Night Long is a contender for most entertaining EP of the year. It is nourishment for your kid at heart, so stop starving him and pick up a copy.

-Andrea Caruso

Daniel G. Harmann-The Books We Read Will Bury Us

danielharmannDaniel G. HarmannThe Books We Read Will Bury Us

Mood-encompassing indie-pop that will calm and soothe you with lush beauty.


I love indie-pop, in all varities. I love Sufjan’s jubilant theatrics, The Postal Service’s blippy electronic pop, Fountains of Wayne’s pristine guitar pop, the Mountain Goats’ delicate acoustic songs, and Novi Split’s fractured half-songs. I love all of it – but there’s a special place in my heart for a small sub-genre of indie-pop that I have lovingly labeled “Rainy Day Makeout Music.” Daniel G. Harmann may not know that he is one of the superstars in this specialized arena, but with The Books We Read Will Bury Us, he has vaulted himself into the upper echelon of this tiny group.

What constitutes “Rainy Day Makeout Music”? It’s surprisingly easy to pin down, although not a lot of people set out to make music like this. It’s basically muted, muffled, shuffling, dreary music – beautiful, full songs that seem full to bursting with parts but just don’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. The members of Meryll are the experts at making moving music that hardly moves at all, but Daniel G. Harmann certainly is challenging them.

Harmann’s music is totally encompassing in the fact that it controls the mood of any room it is played in. The songs are inescapably beautiful – perched right on the brink where nostalgia becomes regret and sleepiness becomes disappointment, but never falling over into the downer side. It is comforting music – music that makes me want to get wrapped up in a blanket, watch the rain fall, and, well, leisurely make out with a girl.

The great thing about this music is that it doesn’t really matter which track is which – while each track has something unique to offer, it’s really the mood that is set from the first ten seconds onward that is the draw of this album. For what it’s worth, the track that I find most engaging is “Last Swim of the Year,” which rides on a moseying, muted drum beat and a non-invasive, circular acoustic guitar line. The guitar line is layered on top of repeatedly, but the swaying forward motion of the underlying acoustic track paired with the lazy, contented swagger of the kit drummer keeps the track from getting bogged down in the weight of its own layers. The vocals are fragile and perfect, floating above the music in a way that begs for a very cheesy analogy to something like waves or small birds. Just consider them amazing, ok?

The only part of this album that I don’t find amazing is the unfortunate “Solidarity.” It’s not a terrible song – no, the unfortunate quality is that the warbly vocal performance is not nearly up to the stunner that is “Last Swim of the Year.” Did I mention that “Solidarity” directly follows “Last Swim…”? Total buzzkill.

But “She Hears a Frequency” picks up where “Last Swim of the Year” left off by introducing a swooning cello, and all is righted. And honestly, if one slice of one song on a half-hour long album is the only thing I can find wrong, you’re doing some pretty stellar work.

Daniel G. Harmann’s work on The Books We Read Will Bury Us will encompass your mood for a half-hour. Prepare to be soothed, calmed and wowed. And seeing as this is an iTunes-only release that’s merely 6 songs long, the album is cheap. You do not want to miss out on this beautiful piece of (inexpensive) art. This album definitely will be on my best of 2007 list.

-Stephen Carradini

Clair De Lune-Assisted Living

clairedeluneClair De LuneAssisted Living

Variety courses through this punk/emo/alternative/hardcore album.

Deep Elm Records

I’m not going to try and come off as an expert on the punk/emo/hardcore thing that is going on right now in the world. In fact, I generally shy away from most music which would fit the above genre description. But I know what I like and I know what is good, and this, my friends, is damn good!

Assisted Living is an album just waiting to explode onto a scene which is in desperate need of a band which is willing to push the artistic envelope a bit farther than the competition. Clair De Lune might just be that band. This album is packed with everything a listener could want: energy, hooks, danceable grooves, sing-a-long choruses, passionate quiet movements and heavy breakdowns. In fact, there really isn’t a dull moment to be had on the CD.

It literally has everything, including some excellent texture-adding keyboards courtesy of Adam Roddy, who also provides the backing vocals to Justin Burckhard. Their combined voices cover a lot of different musical territories on this disc and further help the band diversify their sound. Burckhard shares guitar duties with Tom Caughlan, both of whom exercise the right amount of rock guitar, progressive licks and minimal ambience depending on what the song calls for.

The rhythm section is gifted as well and they create many hypnotic moments throughout the album. Ben Johnson’s focused drumming is a powerful driving force behind the CDL sound. Likewise, the bass of Jon Herr’s comes through the mix with a vibrant tone which is absent in the production of too much modern music. Joe Mabbott

(engineering / mixing) and Dave Gardner (mastering) deserve special mention for how crisp and sharp this album sounds. I also love the addition of violin (Jamey Groethe) on “Assisted Living” and “Winning Over Grief and Sorrow.” The latter track is an instrumental and quite possibly the most moving track on the album.

Many bands would seem scared to bring such a level of experimentation into such a saturated scene, but at the end of the day I think that is exactly what has secured Clair De Lune’s spot as one of the finest emerging talents in the genre. Their scope seems endless and unlike many of their counterparts they don’t seem restrained with the direction of their music. Songs like “Checkers,” “Black Heard Charades” and “XXXX” are all so radically different, yet all still fall within the CDL sound.

With an established previous release Marionettes under their belt and the fact that they have clearly raised the bar with Assisted Living, one has to wonder what the future holds for this talented young band.

-Josh Hogan