Sunday, April 22, 2007
The Appleseed Cast/The Life and Times/Skies Fallen/Chaos to Cosmos
The Conservatory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This show by the numbers:
4 bands: Chaos to Cosmos, Skies Fallen, The Life and Times, The Appleseed Cast
1 band I came to see: The Appleseed Cast
3 bands I ended up seeing: missed Chaos to Cosmos – sorry guys.
0 bands photographed: dead batteries, marking the second time I’ve brought an unusable camera to an Appleseed Cast show
2 bands I enjoyed: Skies Fallen, The Appleseed Cast.
I wasn’t a part of the emo scene in early nineties, but if I were, I probably would have hoisted Skies Fallen on my shoulders as the next big thing. As far as I could hear, Skies Fallen had many sound characteristics of an early 90s emo band: loud, abrasive, sometimes dissonant roars of near-hardcore rock abruptly followed by beautifully melodic yet intense chorales; rhythmic and patterned guitar melodies; split-second transitions; ragged yelling in addition to sung vocals. Towards the end of their set, I truly felt like I was witnessing a band chronologically lost from its actual scene: as if they were taking a tour and one stop was “the future.”
But don’t freak out at the word emo – even if you detest Taking Back Sunday with all the hate your soul can muster, don’t fear. This is passionate, soul-baring, meaningful art. This isn’t four-chords and a singalong melody. Skies Fallen creates pieces of rock music that caused me to stand with my jaw open at the sheer goodness of the music. Every member of the band contributes in a very important way – something that is lost on many bands. This cohesiveness coupled with their dramatic songwriting and their honest passion made for a set that I won’t forget in a long while. Their final tune “Dreamer’s Sandbox” was especially incredible – the type of song that leads to want a certain conclusion, teases you with it, delivers it, then leaves you wanting more. Perfection.
I just finished reading a collection of Lester Bangs’ works entitled Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. For those who haven’t been properly introduced, he was probably the most interesting and definitely one of the most noticed rock critics of the 70’s and early 80’s. He filtered everything through his perceptions of what rock should be: brash, raucous, inspired, connected with the audience, simple, primal, real. He had no stomach for pretension. And if you didn’t fit into his mold, you just didn’t get a good review.
Now I don’t hold to that style all the time – when it’s clear that a band does not land anywhere near my standards of rock’n’roll, I don’t judge them on my standards. They don’t measure up because they’re not even in the same ballpark. But if you do land somewhere in the ballpark of my rock standards but go awry, woe be to you.
Or woe be to the Life and Times, that is. My standards for rock: rhythmic and complex drum work; bass melodies, not bass lines; guitar work, not power-chords; passionate vocals, if not exactly the most perfect tone; dynamics; a break from verse/chorus/verse; showmanship.
The Life and Times flirted with many of those things in their set of rock. Their dark, pulverizing, straight-ahead rock had shining moments where the bassist’s fingers moved along with the maniacal thrashing of the drummer and the guitarist strummed less than his usual breakneck pace. Unfortunately, most of the time they were content to pulverize, cranking the amps and letting loose with a thundering wall of distortion and simplistic clatter. The kids around me loved it, proving that The Life and Times put on a good set, but except for the ferocious chops of the drummer (holy goodness was he talented), I just couldn’t get into it. I was pulverized by the loudest guitar noise I’ve ever heard and disillusioned by the almost total lack of dynamics and showmanship.
I really only came to see The Appleseed Cast perform one song, because I saw them last semester and got my AC fix then. I came to see “Fishing the Sky,” a song I love so entirely that I devoted an entire column to it one month. The first time they came their new guitarist hadn’t learned “Fishing,” and thus I saw them sans my favorite song. But I talked to the guitarist after the first show about it and he said he would be learning that song next. Buoyed by this hope, during the first few songs of this set I impatiently tried to read the set list. I was thrown into a giddy frenzy upon seeing the word “fishing” near the bottom of the paper.
I’ve waited a good many years to hear this song – I told the bassist in my giddy preparedness before the song that I’d been waiting five years to hear it. I honestly don’t know how long it’s been out and I may have made a fool of myself. But I don’t care, because I got to hear that winding opening riff that I have played on so many bad days, so many good days, and so many other days.
I apologize to anyone at the concert who was privy to the weird kid at the front of the stage flailing violently, as if his life depended on it, during “Fishing the Sky.” That was me. I heard my favorite song of all time, and it was incredible. I really can’t describe to you what being there was like – hearing that song live is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
A final by the numbers:
20: teeth showing in a huge grin, post-show
2: seriously ringing ears.
3: days of serious ringing.
1: tremendous memory.
– Stephen Carradini
Tracks to check out:
(all can be sampled on Hits From Another Planet)
Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of this “new-rave” sound coming out of the UK right now, even though it combines a lot of elements that I like. Late of the Pier have been lumped together with this movement, but they have both a greater pop sensibility and a glammier approach than most others in the genre. This song, especially, sounds like Cars era Gary Numan. It’s a mammoth single, and one that I can’t imagine failing to be a success. It’s just so darn catchy. Also, I heard this track in demo form a few months ago, and this full single release is about a million times better.
Plemo – “Flashlight”
“Flashlight”, by German singer Plemo begins with a high pitched introduction that I have completely given up trying to decipher. Luckily, it very quickly jumps into an insanely catchy, energetic synth workout. It has the same wild, strange energy that the Scissor Sisters used to have in their demo days, but with more of a dance/club edge. I could see this track simply lighting up the dance floor. Though it sounds like very little else you’ve heard, you’ll be singing along with whatever they’re saying before the first listen is even over.
Andrew Benon has crafted a pitch perfect recreation of great 80’s pop with this track. From the Bowie-esque vocals to the screaming saxophone to the sparkling synths, “Rock And Roll Moves” deserves to be the summer anthem of convertible drivers everywhere. It almost sounds like it was written by Prince back in his eighties hey day, especially the flawless chorus. Best of all, Andrew Benon’s debut effort is full of this kind of stuff. Many artists (especially on this blog) draw from the eighties for their sound, but few have been as believable as Benon is. Lyrically, “Moves” is very clever as well, which is always a pleasant surprise in pop music.
Back in February, Norway’s King Midas quietly released Sorry, their latest album, and what could end up being one of the best records of the year. I’ve heard their sound on Sorry compared to such artists as Roxy Music and the Human League, but with a more contemporary edge. “West End Boys” was the album’s first single, released in late 2006. It amazes me that a band can release a pop song this perfect and go practically unnoticed outside of their homeland. Despite being lyrically quite dark (about Nazi Germany, or something like that… I haven’t quite deciphered it), the pulsing beat, background chants and chiming bells add up to pure pop perfection.
The 80’s pretty much killed the solo. Heavy metal with all its decadence ensured that solos are tightly packaged into forseeable and boring instrumentals in the middle of the song. Jazz gave way to fusion, and Eric Clapton got that horrible red guitar. Next to that “No Stairway to Heaven” sign, guitar shops were contemplating adding a “No cheesy solos” plaque. For 90’s bands it was an unwritten law that you do not build your song around a solo. Indie music was battling the solo epidemic like there was no tomorrow.
And yet, some bands managed to give the ancient art of the solo some justice. Here at The Plugg we celebrate the solos that did make it through.
Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”
This song is the epitome of the indie solo. Considering this was 1988, you cannot find a quirkier and more original solo if you tried.
Radiohead – “Just”
Uncut magazine had a “Best Guitarists” feature about a year ago. While most guitar heroes were named in their prospective bands, the guitarist for Radiohead was just listed as…”Radiohead.” Some would say that Jonny Greenwood is the driving force behind Radiohead’s guitar mayhem, but no one is really willing to give him all the credit. The solo in “Just” is not only genius, but also manages to drive the song forward rather than just being a “Look at me mom, I can play guitar” sort of instrumental break.
Pavement – “Stop Breathing”
Not exactly a solo, this perplexing guitar work at the end of the song really shows what Stephen Malkmus and co. were capable of. It starts with 2 notes being played repeatedly and slowly builds up to, er…3 notes by the end of the song.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Starla”
Here’s another argument you can never win. Which is the best Pumpkins solo? If I had to choose one (and I do), “Starla,” taken from [u]Pisces Iscariot[/u] is the definitive Corgan drone. It is a welcome surprise at the end of a beautiful tune, and if you close your eyes and listen carefully, it can really take you places.
Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows”
It’s not just the acid guitar, it’s the combination of the amazing bass line and Dave Grohl’s crazy drums that really make this solo special. It’s short and sweet but really leaves you wanting more.
Sonic Youth – “Washing Machine”
One can argue that Sonic Youth’s guitar work cannot be measured or compared. The sheer velocity of their work is amazing and that’s why I chose the funniest solo I could find. After Kim finishes telling her odd story, a very “straight forward” rock n’ rollish kind of solo is played. It’s strange in this context, but works very well with the story. There aren’t many so called “solos” in Sonic Youth’s body of work and it’s nice to see that they try sometimes.
Built to Spill – “Cortez the Killer”
Another one of my favorite guitarists, Doug Martsch is no stranger to the guitar. BTS’s cover of Neil Young’s classic shows exactly what these guys are capable of. Not only does it pay tribute to one of the greatest guitar heroes…(I’m kinda scared to admit), it’s almost better than the original.
Wilco – “Impossible Germany”
Wilco’s latest is packed full of tasty solos. The most impressive in my opinion is “Impossible Germany.” It’s a two-guitar kind of affair that leaves you picking your jaw off the floor.
Pearl Jam – “Alive”
Grunge bands were always, in my mind, set out to battle the indulgence of the 80’s. That’s why it’s so surprising that one of the movement’s leaders chose to keep the solos. The solo in “Alive” manages to be epic while not making a big deal of itself. A truly iconic moment in rock.
The Strokes – “Last Nite”
Along with the spirit of the 80’s, the Strokes brought back the “functional” solo. Their ability to crank out a kick ass solo in 4 bars inside a pop song is astounding. Their current album features amazing guitars, but “Last Nite” was the first I’d heard of them, and is due the full credit.
Dinosaur Jr. – “Thumb” (live)
If there is something to be said about J. Mascis, it is that he can play a mean guitar. Picking a best solo is like choosing the right white color to paint your apartment. I’ve chosen the live version of “Thumb” because it is a really bare solo without overdubs or studio trickery. It leaves Mascis naked to show why he’s truly the best indie guitarist out there.
Bloc Party – “The Prayer”
By 2007 the whole Radiohead/Muse pitch shifter solo is no longer as astonishing. The guys from Bloc Party still manage to make it their own and break away from the norm.
Squirrel Nut Zippers – “Hell”
D Thompson’s contribution to this piece proves that it’s not only about the guitar. It’s got a piano solo, a sax solo AND a trumpet solo PLUS they manage to work the spelling out of the word “damnation” into the lyrics.
Uncle Tupelo – “Effigy”
Another cover, and Jeff Tweedy again (I would’ve never figured he’d feature twice in this piece). This Creedence Clearwater Revival cover has the most amazing and loud solos you can imagine. You sit back and listen to the wonderful vocal harmonies and then all of a sudden the amp is turned up to 11 and sheer mayhem erupts.
Every piece has got to end. I know I’ve neglected many great bands like Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, Magnolia Electric Company and Kings of Leon but there are only a certain number of adjectives I know to describe guitar solos.
So what’s your favorite indie solo?
originally posted on ThePlugg.com