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Month: February 2011

Ghost Heart's American tribal melodies melt brains

I have never heard anything like Ghost Heart. For starters, there are no snare drums on their album The Tunnel. There are shakers, cymbals, three million tom hits, bass drum and more, but not a single snare. Most of the vocals are modeled after soaring tribal chant style, but with a distinctly Western melodic bent. The guitars range from indie-rock to mathy patterns. The bass guitar is about the only normal thing in this whole album.

It sounds glorious. It’s really confusing and convention-busting, but it’s a good confusing. The tunes are very long, too; the eight songs here run forty minutes, with one outlier at 1:29. Surprisingly, their unique uncategorizable genre encompasses several different moods; “Salty Sea” is indeed a sea shanty, while “No Canticle” is something Sufjan could write if he spent a week or two in South Africa (Sufjan’s Graceland would be a thing to behold). “Whoever You Are” is an odd, Pontiak-esque mellow rumination. After forty seconds of weirdness, “Black Air” turns into an incredibly surprising indie-rock tune featuring the aforementioned mathy guitar work.

Again, The Tunnel is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Also, The Tunnel is brilliant. It’s bands like these that test reviewers’ moxie: can this incredibly original sound be translated to text well enough to convince unsuspecting listeners to check it out? I don’t know if I have succeeded. But here’s a list of RIYL bands: Funeral-era Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, American Football, Coldplay (any album except Parachutes), American Football, Journey, yodeling. No, for real.


Get this album.

The Haunted Continents love power-pop and the '50s and kaboom! an album

The Haunted Continents‘ debut album is The Loudest Year Ever. For a band with the word “Haunted” in the album title, they engage in a surprisingly small amount of creepiness or subtlety. This is a heart-on-sleeve guitar-rock album through and through. It’s not the type of album that’s trying to convince anyone to come over to the genre; it’s a love letter to the genre for people who already love it.

There’s ten songs that take up 31 minutes here, for roughly three minutes a song. The vocals are alternately brash and wounded (see opener “2nd Ave. Blues” for best example). There’s tons of ooo’s, whoa-ohs and doo-wop references (they love their ’50s). If Teenage Fanclub was the power-pop revival, The Haunted Continents is the revival of the revival.

The good-naturedly distorted first half of the album smacks strongly of the Bandwagonesque creators, while the back half is softer, like Jonathan Richman’s solo work or even the great Paul Simon (“Played Me Like a Drum”). The whole thing is an excellent summer album that’s hard to dislike. Table The Loudest Year Ever till you can roll down your windows comfortably, then rock out at will.

My other car is a real job

In my day job at Oklahoma Gazette, I also write about music. I spend a significant amount of time making websites happen, but I do have duties that involve writing about people strumming and hitting things. It’s a fun thing that I’m incredibly thankful for. Here are links and teasers to a few of my favorite recent CD reviews from there.

Braids — Native Speaker. “An album that fuses the vaguely optimistic, digital-created moods of chillwave to the full-band power of indie rock and the cinematic scope of post-rock.”

Typhoon — A New Kind of House. “Typhoon accomplishes more in 21 minutes than some bands can accomplish in a career. These songs are endearing, invigorating, mature, well-orchestrated, brilliantly performed, immaculately recorded and summarily astounding.”

Chikita Violenta — Tre3s. “They take after the late, great Grandaddy in that they write indie-rock songs that exist somewhere between pop and rock; not quite as rebellious as real rock, but not as melody-centric as real pop.”

Quick hits: Sweetkiss Momma

Oklahoma sits firmly in the Midwest. It is often stereotyped as a hick state, but the culture here is not a Southern one. We belong to prairies, not swampland. I hear a lot more Toby Keith than Lynyrd Skynyrd in public.

But even though I’m not as familiar with Southern rock as some others may be, I can tell you when a band cranks out good, crunchy Skynyrd-inspired tunes. And Sweetkiss Momma does just that on Revival Rock.

With their uber-Southern name and gritty sound, I was surprised to find that they hail from the Pacific Northwest. Only on second listen to the grungy undertones of the sound shine through. The first time, all you’re gonna hear is the infectious melodies, drawl, organ and Southern-fried guitar licks. They’re all over the place, so it’s hard to miss ’em. The radio-friendly pop of “Slow Fade” recalls Zac Brown Band, while “Strange Fire” is draws comparisons to the slow bit of  “Free Bird.”

But the majority of the tunes here are rifftastic rockers, with vocals sneering and dictating over iconic Southern rock idioms. If you like Southern rock, you’ll be all over Sweetkiss Momma’s Revival Rock. It’s even worth a glance if you’re interested in the genre; it’s a solid record through and through.

Ithica's ambient music has a beating heart and emotion to spare

The problem I have with most ambient music is that it lacks a beating heart. For me to enjoy anything — whether it’s metal, indie rock, acoustic folk or jazz — there must be some emotion that I can tap into. And much ambient music, while pretty, lacks a human element.

Ithica fought against the coldness of ambient music when creating Bertrand Russell’s Ice Cream Truck and won. The thirty-one minute album, which appropriately starts off with a ten-minute track called “Ambiently,” takes all of the most emotive aspects of Ithica’s brilliant self-titled album and distills them into an vocal-free, downtempo mix.

It’s important to note that Ithica’s self-titled debut was neither ambient nor instrumental. The fact that this is not their only genre makes this album much better. They know that a boring song in the ambient world is no artsier than a boring song in the pop world. These songs aren’t fast-paced by any means, but there’s a thread that runs through them of immediate payoff. The melodies are well-placed and not belabored or repeated. The band says what it wants to say and then gets out of there, on to the next thing.

A reverent, highly emotional mood from their self-titled album also carries over. These excellent songs create serene, contemplative soundscapes. This is mind-blowing headphone music, but it also has the power to transform the feel of an entire room.  It’s not all synth washes and glacial tempos, either; there’s plenty of digital bleeps and boops (“How to Play Chess With Human Hands”), fast-paced percussion loops (“A Shiny Broken Toy”), and even some distortion going on in the title track (which I researched, but failed to discover the meaning behind).

But the best moments here are not just great, they’re revelatory. “Ambiently,” “August 5th” and “The Language of Children” tap into emotions and places in my mind that few other bands have the power to access. These are the sort of songs that I would want in the soundtrack of my life; perhaps a late-movie montage sequence where I look back on all the best thankfully but remorsefully while looking bravely to an uncertain future.

I doubt it will conjure up the same feelings in you, but I’m relatively sure it will conjure up something. These tunes are brilliant and beautiful, and I am thankful I got to hear them. drops a gorgeous skateboarding vid

So, as I’ve noted before, I love skateboarding videos. I also love hoodies, Allen and otherwise. So when dropped this skateboarding video featuring really pretty, non-punktacular, ambient-ish music, I was pretty interested. It features some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a skateboarding video, courtesy of DistinctiveSofa Productions. It’s all a bit disorienting for this long-time skateboarding video fan, but the only thing constant is change, I suppose. And if you consider it from an outsider perspective, it’s a pretty gorgeous vid.

Quick hits: Alcoholic Faith Mission

Denmark’s Alcoholic Faith Mission plays a Beirut/Arcade Fire-style indie-folk that rides the fine line between style and substance. On first listen it seems that the band is all bark and no bite; the moods are solid and the instrumentation is strong, but no song jumps out and demands attention. There are choirs, acoustic guitars, horn sections, et al., but as an overall whole, And the Running With Insanity EP takes a very unassuming stance.

But as more listens follow the initial impression, these songs wormed their way into my head. A few weeks after I got this EP, “Running With Insanity” popped up on a shuffle list. While I was hard-pressed to remember who wrote the song or what it was called, I knew I liked it and could hum along. When I looked down at the title, I decided I liked the EP. Not because it stands out for virtuosic instrumentation or immediate tunes, but for the fact that I really like this EP for an almost inexplicable reason. It’s like enjoying The National. No matter how many times I disliked High Violet, I kept being drawn to it. Now I go to it as comfort music. I have no idea when I started liking that album; it just happened somewhere in there.

So it is for Alcoholic Faith Mission and its And the Running With Insanity EP. I really like it, because it’s a part of my brain now. I can’t explain how or why it got there, but I’m relatively certain this sort of thing will happen to you too if you listen.

The One Through Tens impress with a sneering, indignant set of punk/funk tunes

I believe the quintessential feature of rock’n’roll is rebellion, and the fundamental element of punk is indignation. My diminishing amount of rebellion has lead me to seek out less rock bands, but my growing indignation over the state of the world has caused me to seek out talented, angry punk bands.

They’re increasingly difficult to come by in this entertainment-seeking age. When you’re only trying to entertain yourself, it greatly decreases the amount of topics that you care enough about to become indignant over. Our culture is anti-punk.

Thankfully, The One Through Tens have indignation to spare. It oozes out of their funk-informed sound and into the title of their album: Fighting for a Golden Age. The One Through Tens are not taking this sitting down.

And by funk, I don’t mean Parliament/Funkadelic. I mean Rage Against The Machine-style, angry white boy funk. The band sets in with it on track two (“Dyin’ Blues,” naturally), and keeps it as a vital element of the sound for the entire album. There is some punk riffing here, in “Run From Your Master” and the Offspring-esque title track, but the punk is mostly upheld by the sneering, impassioned vocals and the swagger with which the whole thing is pulled off.

In fact, the songs are more often than not slow. Some are even slow and quiet. But they never let up the intensity, no matter what the music sounds like. Whether it’s stomping out some Queens of the Stone Age-style rock on “Crazy For You,” fuzzing out for a stoner rock trip in “Religious Fervor” or impersonating RATM on highlight “So Damn Sad,” this band is a punk band through and through.

Fighting for a Golden Age is a stellar punk release in an era that isn’t conducive to those. The understanding that the band members were swimming upstream to make this album reinforces the power and maturity of this release. Isn’t that what punk is supposed to be about?

The End of America shows flashes of folk brilliance amid the variety

The End of America‘s Steep Bay is nine songs and twenty-one minutes long. It is a very intimate affair, as it features live performances and found sound among its tracks. It’s the latest in a string of folk albums to come out of self-imposed banishments to rural areas to write (as popularized by Bon Iver). But For Emma, Forever Ago worked because of Justin Vernon’s slavish attention to mood and detail. Even though the guys in The End of America have the details down, they don’t have the mood hammered out on Steep Bay.

It’s a bummer, because the best moments of Steep Bay show that The End of America has something great to offer. The effortless calm of Novi Split’s intimate bedroom pop applied to the folk revival’s rustic songwriting ideals is a beautiful thing. Imagine if Mumford and Sons could be every bit as powerful without having to go for the jugular in every coda, and you’ve got a good approximation of “Fiona Grace” and “Oh Mousey.” But “These Things Are Mine” is an upbeat bluegrass meditation of sorts, and “Running” is a step removed from an old-school Dashboard Confessional acoustic emo song in strum pattern, melody and lyric. “Are You Lonely” is a meandering, morose tune. It all just doesn’t mesh at all.

The best moments here are the found sounds of “Diving Rock” and “Steep Bay.” “Diving Rock” is a recording of the members jumping off a rock into the bay, which leads directly into “Fiona Grace.” “Steep Bay” is a banjo rumination with the sound of pouring rain providing percussion, which is the single most beautiful moment on the album.

The End of America can write a great album if they spent more time at it, I think. They’re just not the “collective goes to cottage, produces masterpiece” type of band. There are flashes of brilliance on Steep Bay, but the overall product is a bit muddled by the lack of a coherent mood.