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Month: January 2011

Quick Hits: 28 Degrees Taurus

Sometimes bands form to ride the crest of a trend. Sometimes the trend catches up to a band that was already there. The latter is the case for 28 Degrees Taurus, whose jangly/dreamy/psychedelic female-fronted songs fall neatly between Beach House’s dreamy haze and Sleigh Bells’ skronked-out, ultrarhythmic pop noise.

Anchored by the knowledge that they’ve been doing this since 2005 and didn’t just form to catch the trend, you can enjoy the good songs on All The Stars In Your Eyes. And they are good. They aren’t as immediately catchy as Sleigh Bells, but they aren’t as slow as Beach House. There’s defined rhythm, full guitar work and upbeat tempos, but the vocals tend more to dreamy bits and pieces than staccato bursts of notes.

It’s a combination that works really well. This, admittedly, is not my favorite genre of music, but I can recognize talent where it lies, and it lies here. 28 Degrees Taurus has carved out a niche in indie-rock, and they kick it in that spot for 12 tracks. If you’re up for that, then you’ll enjoy it. If you think that reverb is the worst thing to re-occur in music since The Darkness tried to bring back hair metal, well, this isn’t for you. But know that it’s a preference thing, and not a quality thing: these tunes are well-written, energetic and engaging. Rock on, 28 Degrees Taurus.

Quick Hits: South Cry

Every once in a blue moon, Independent Clauses covers modern rock. South Cry‘s album is literally called Blue Moon. I took that as a challenge.

If we’re going to count modern rock on its playing field, we need to be checking for anthemic riffs, soaring vocals, vaguely dark moods and guitar solos. By the 2:00 minute mark in opener “Paradox,” South Cry has delivered all of these things. They’ve even thrown in acoustic guitar for good measure. This band sounds more like Creed than Creed does (and, in this context, that’s a very good thing). And, although critically maligned, Creed sold a bajillion albums. This bodes very well for South Cry.

It helps that they’re actually good at all of the aforementioned parts. The vocalist has a powerful croon that stays locked in to the notes, even when casting off lines nonchalantly (“Lord of Sound”). And their riffs are pretty great too; I had my iPod on shuffle when “L.I.A.R.” came on, and I thought it was a Foo Fighters song at first.  Other tunes call to mind Lifehouse and even Silversun Pickups (who, in turn, call to mind Smashing Pumpkins).

The members of South Cry are a bunch of guys from Brazil trying to break into the American scene, but you would never know from the sound. They sound like a melodic modern rock band through and through. If you’re still lovin’ that modern rock sound, you should check these guys out post-haste. Blue Moon is a great collection of modern rock songs that showcases vocal and guitar prowess.

Quick Hits: Jacob's List

Do you like happiness? Good. Do you like exuberance? Good. Do you like giddiness? Great, because that’s the level of enthusiasm you’ll need to take in Jacob’s List. Their EP Corks and Screws is as optimistic as Anathallo, as exuberant as The Format and as frenetic as Jack’s Mannequin.

It’s piano-based indie pop, that much is sure. And they’re ecstatic about something, that much is also true. There are handclaps, group singalongs, woo!s and guitar solos. The best example of this is “Claire,” which even manages to pack in some Hold Steady-esque story-song lyrics delivered in a distinctly Craig Finn-ian drawl (albeit more melodic). I swear, if it’s not on your next mixtape, a unicorn will explode into a dozen little rainbows.

But right after they establish that they’re the second coming of The Unicorns (with a piano), they toss in a stomping rock aside. Did I mention it’s the title track? Yes, Jacob’s List knows how to keep a listener riveted. The acoustic-heavy “Tall Tall Grass” sounds like the best things that Annuals have been able to pull off, and “Bloodlines” is eight frickin minutes long. Needless to say, it is awesome.

Jacob’s List know how to throw down an EP. Corks and Screws establishes them very firmly in my mind as a band to watch. No one can make music this exuberant and technically proficient only to stay in a garage. Someone get this band to SXSW! Stat! Until then, I’ll be over here, smiling giddily, listening intently and petting the unicorn.

Quick Hits: Dorena

Dorena‘s About Everything and More is the type of post-rock I love. Clean, single-note melodies traipse about hopefully on top of a yearning rhythm section, building to the big payoff. The best moments of early Appleseed Cast (“Fishing the Sky”) and Unwed Sailor’s whole discography play with the ebb and flow of hopeful post-rock, and Dorena is taking their place next to Moonlit Sailor as my favorite up-and-coming post-rock bands. It’s no wonder that they’re both on Deep Elm Records; when those guys decide to do a genre, they do it up right.

Dorena lets loose from the first song: “The Morning Bus” sets a groove with a bass line, augments with distant atmospheric synths, introduces an intricate-but-casual-in-intensity drum beat, drops in crunchy but not overblown guitars, sprinkles some clean guitar melodies on top, then garnishes with some wordless ohs. They build it up to the payoff, where the melody comes via synth AND guitar in over the top of a crushingly distorted rhythm guitar while the drums spazz out (but without losing the overall sense of wonder). It’s a veritable blueprint of a great post-rock song. They’ve either done their homework or been born to play the genre. Either way, the listener wins.

If you like optimistic, building post-rock, get your hands on Dorena’s About Everything and More. You will not regret it.

Quick Hits: Goonies Never Say Die

Goonies Never Say Die, despite having a goofy name, play some serious music on No Words to Voice Our Hopes and Fears. They play post-rock that’s heavy on the rock, calling to mind the theatrics of Muse and the guitar bombast of Explosions in the Sky. This means they are less heavy on the arpeggiated riffs and soaring melodies than other bands, as they prefer to crush the distortion pedal and mash it out. There’s nothing wrong with the approach (“Monument to a Moment That Never Should Have Passed” is awesome), but it leans closer toward the headbanging thrall of metal than I like to hear. The band can still drop in clean, beautiful sections (“Paul” comes to mind), but again, the emphasis is on the rock and not the post. If you like your thoughtfulness with the rock horns raised, get on this.

Quick Hits: The Jesus Rehab

You don’t need a good voice to make it in pop music anymore, but you have a way better shot if you do (we’re not all Avi Buffalo). The Jesus Rehab‘s Jared Cortese has a great voice, so when his pop/rock songwriting catches up to his vocal prowess (and I suspect it will, if he keeps at it), he should be a just a hop, skip and a jump away from “making it” (whatever his idea of “making it” is).

Cortese’s strong, emotive tenor is a gift – it makes me want to listen to it. When it’s put into exuberant pop songs like “If It Feels Good It Is Good” and “The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows,” the combination is magic. Cortese’s best bet instrument is piano, although his guitar playing is present throughout the album. That’s part of the problem; when Cortese punches the distortion pedal, he sets his voice out of its element in trying to sing rock. This is especially obvious on “Nervous Energy” and “Behind Closed Doors,” but is present in other places as well.

The best tune here, is “Seattle,” a straightforward acoustic tune that sounds like a lost Beach Boys cut, circa Wild Honey, before it breaks into a fuzzbox stomp. Here Cortese keeps his voice from the uncomfortable strain adopted in other electric sections and even adds a counterpoint; it’s this section of music (as well as the glorious slice of summer pop that is “If It Feels Good It Is Good”) that makes me believe The Jesus Rehab could be a stellar vehicle for Cortese going forward.

There’s room to grow for Cortese as a songwriter and performer; he just needs to keep making songs and learn how to turn his impulses into perfection. Recommended for those who like jumping on the bandwagon early.

Quick hits: Charles Mansfield

Charles Mansfield‘s voice is weird enough to be singular but not so strange as to be completely off-putting. At his low range he bites off his notes with definition; at the top he fades off into a yelp. It never devolves to a whine, which is good; the mellow songs on All the Way EP place most of the heavy lifting on the back of the vocals.

“World Not Enough” does flesh out the arrangement with strings and a drumset, but the song is still driven by the guitar and vocals. The title track is the best offering, as sparse piano and rattling drums create a unique vehicle for Mansfield’s voice, reminiscent of Turin Brakes. His songwriting is solid, but it’s his voice that’s the real draw here. All the Way EP is a good set of four songs to introduce himself as an artist. Fans of the Mountains Goats or unique voices in general should apply within.

Quick hits: Bird Call

Bird Call‘s The Animals Know EP showcases a talent that I look forward to hearing more from. The extravagantly-named pianist Chiara Angelicola, whose stage name is Bird Call, plays piano pieces with a minimum of surrounding sounds. They range from chirpy pop a la Regina Spektor (“Waltz in the Snow,” “Bye, Bye Honeymoon”) to elegant, morose pieces (the other four songs). Her dusky voice has impressive range, from gravelly low notes (“The Races”) to trilling highs (“Bye, Bye Honeymoon”). It’s hard to tell which is more appealing, the piano songwriting or the vocals; and that’s a good problem to have. Fans of solid pop melodies and dramatic sweeps and swells will find much to love in The Animals Know.