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Among Giants / Aspiga split

August 5, 2013

The two new songs from IC faves Among Giants on this split with Aspiga turn over a new leaf for the band. AG has been mostly an acoustic-punk band (with the notable exception of the screamy “There Is a Ghost“) until 36 seconds into “In the Jungle,” where the drummer hits a downbeat and a crunchy distorted guitar line crashes in. Rhythmically the song remains an Among Giants tune, with a lot of staccato hits and separated notes. Greg Hughes’ speak-sing delivery is also retained until the very end, where he cranks it up to a ragged scream for emphasis.

That ragged scream warms up the listener for “I Care About Everyone I Meet,” which is a straight-up punk-rock tune. The only thing that connects “I Care” to Among Giants’ back catalog is the positive lyrics present in both. The song is strong and enjoyable as a punk song, but even the rhythmic style of the tune has a whole different feel. I like both of these tunes a lot, but this might signal the end of acoustic-heavy tunes like “A Letter” and “Get Your Shit Straight.” Alas, nothing stays the same but change. Here’s to the new sound of Among Giants.

It fits that they’re splitting with Aspiga, a gruff, tough, gritty pop-punk band. Both Aspiga tunes feature metallic bass tone, chunky guitar riffs, and tense moods. I’m not a huge fan of screaming in punk songs (that’s ultimately why I ended up writing an indie-pop blog, after growing up on pop-punk), but Aspiga does it tastefully in “Direction.” They bust out a synthesizer for “Old Hobbies,” which impressed me a ton and took me back to 2003. Their half of the split is fun and enjoyable for fans of the genre, although long-time readers of IC may not be into something so gritty and tough. You can pick up the 7″ over at Say-10 Records.

Giants

December 10, 2012

Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.

I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among GiantsTruth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.

Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.

Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.

They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”

For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.

It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.

Quick Hit: Bobby’s Oar

July 8, 2015

weedsinyourgarden

Greg Hughes’ Among Giants songwriting vehicle took him from a folk-punk solo act to a full-distortion punk outfit pretty rapidly. Since Among Giants now doesn’t function as a folk-punk outfit, he took things back to his roots with a new album and a new name. The diverse acoustic-based songwriting of Weeds In Your Garden by Bobby’s Oar will satisfy folk-punk purists and adventurous folk fans.

The standout cut here is opener “In the Woods,” which marries a rapid-fire folk-punk strumming pattern to a meandering vocal line that’s heavy on pathos and melody. Hughes grows the song from that intimate opening to a blown-out full-band chorus that includes horns and a shout-it-out punk choir. I couldn’t avoid humming the “whoah-oh” line for days. Hughes’ lyrics have always been deeply introspective without getting cloying, and he fits a fresh set of similar concerns to the work here: The mid-tempo folk explosion of “I Find Comfort” details the difficulties of moving cross-country; the back-porch picking of “That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man” is a exposition of optimistic existentialism (which has philosophical forebears that don’t include Camus). At the other end of the spectrum, Hughes screams his voice ragged on the aggressive crumbling-relationship tableau “Heart.”

Thoughful lyrics, heart-on-sleeve narratives, sonic rage, and melodic charm are the recombinant building blocks of Weeds in Your Garden–“It’s a Vice” is a lovely acoustic indie-pop song that Hughes screams over most of. If you’re into Andrew Jackson Jihad, Attica! Attica!, or Nana Grizol, you’ll love Bobby’s Oar.

Acoustic April Mix

April 25, 2013

I love alliteration, so here’s some of that in this mix of MP3s.

Acoustic April Mix

1. “Honeycomb Heart” – True Gents. A magnificent chorus powers this indie-folk tune from a unique Scottish outfit.
2. “Leave Me Where I Want to Be” – Safe Haven. Front-porch intimacy flows through this combination of New Orleans jazz and Appalachian Americana.
3. “Grew Up Here” – The End of America. Appalachian harmony and a rootsy instrumental arrangement make this an irresistible nugget.
4. “Maybe It’s Best” – Justin Heron. Shuffle snare, bright guitar tone, and whispery vocals? Yup, I’m in.
5. “Sharks!” – Common Shiner. This band’s website is SayNoToBadPop.com. That’s awesome. Their acoustic-fronted power-pop echoes Something Corporate and Motion City Soundtrack.
6. “Pretty Face” – Among Giants. I love the vocals here: raw, passionate, and real.
7. “Playing Pretend” – Joshua Steven Ling. The deeply saddening passing of Jason Molina has gotten me back into slow-moving, quiet, morose recordings and their particular type of beauty.
8. “The Lionness” – OfeliaDorme. On that note, here’s a beautiful cover of my favorite Jason Molina song.
9. “Myopic” – Jura. Transcendent beauty that invokes The Album Leaf’s sense of patience.

Post* Records & Friends Presents: Ole

March 1, 2007

Various Artists – Post* Records & Friends Presents: Ole!

Several great songs from predominantly folky or punky artists.

Post* Records

Let’s be honest. Compilations are hard to review. They incorporate different artists with different styles, each of which is usually only represented with one song. Basically, all one can do is look at the amount of good songs compared to the bad and examine how well the album flows from one track to another.

In those regards, Post* Records & Friends Presents: Ole! does exceedingly well. While there are a few weak points, especially earlier on in its 23 tracks, the featured songs are mostly great selections, the majority of which either have a folky or punk sound. (It is interesting to note that the information provided on iTunes lists the genre as “Unclassifiable.”)

Opening with Dodger’s brief track, “Ballistic Picnic,” and continuing with “Soar Spot” from Happy Valley, the eclectic mix of music is immediately brought to the forefront. Both songs have a punk edge to them, but while “Ballistic Picnic” is more accessible, “Soar Spot” is harder to listen to due to its slightly off-key vocals and unorganized structure.

In sharp contrast is Kingsbury’s “The Great Compromise,” the first of many folk-influenced songs on the album. The track is a mellow ballad that fans of Death Cab for Cutie or Youth Group would enjoy.

Continuing the folksy sound is Summerbirds in the Cellar’s exceptional electric-flavored “Beware of False Profits,” the compilation’s first standout song.

Among the more bizarre tracks is “Car Picnic” from Yip-Yip, which reminds me of my days playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors on Super Nintendo. It’s not a bad track, just unique.

Some low points on the compilation are “Honky” by Pooball and “I Know Alphabet Good” by The Punching Contest. With its poor sound quality, the instruments are hard to distinguish from one another, though you wouldn’t be missing much; it’s a jumbled mess of a song.

It is quickly made up for with “Bird in Rain” by Tres Bien! And “Up in the Trees” by Mumpsy. Both are reminiscent of The Shins, highlighting catchy choruses and well-written guitar lines.

Also noteworthy in the middle section of the comp is the They Might Be Giants-like song, “The Lives They Behave” by The Ocean Floor, the main problem being that it’s too short.

Indeed, the middle and end sections are worth buying the compilation. It combines folk-rock and punk, including outstanding tracks like Derek Lyn Plastic’s ska-infused “Walk the Dead,” the Pete Yorn-esque “Leave the Night Behind” from Jason Choi, and the endlessly fun closer, “I Like To Fuck When I’m Wasted” by The Swirling Bees.

While some tracks are not for everyone, or just downright bad, there are many to be enjoyed on Post* Records & Friends Presents: Ole!

-Nathan Williams

nathanmw@ou.edu

The Detholz

September 9, 2004

Best Feature: Convention-destroying songwriting.

Genre: Rock

Website www.thedetholz.com

Label: N/a

Outer space has always been an enigma. It seems empty, endless, and full of possibilities. Thus, we’ve had television shows, books, plays, songs, albums, and even whole bands dedicated to outer space (Brave Saint Saturn). Crazy, isn’t it?

You can add The Detholz! to that list of bands obsessed with space. Their debut album, titled “Who are the Detholz?!”, is actually a concept album about Mars. Yes, Mars. But then again, when you consider that the band has two keyboardists among its musicians, it should start to become more clear why their album is about space- they have all the capabilities to make it sound like it dropped right out of hyperspace. Yes, the Detholz! play wacked out space rock that throws in influences of glam, Queen, They Might Be Giants, and Radiohead. And we’re just getting started on the weirdness.

The lead track of this dirty dozen showcases a cascading, twisted little riff tapped out on bells amidst a solid guitar backdrop, electric organ/synth squeals, and odd chords formed by the second guitar. The vocals are unique to the Detholz- a mix between Freddie Mercury, TMBG, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, and a normal singer. Whether barking, yelling, or moaning, the singer exudes enough suave coolness to keep you coming back for more. Put all those characteristics together and you get “Mr. Electricity”, which is a pretty average wacked-out space rock song until they throw in a breakdown remininscent of the one in “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead- a massive wall of guitar out of nowhere. That changes the song to…something else unidentifiable.

“Army of Mars” starts out with tinkly music-box sounds coming out of your speakers-before they segue into a smashing rock chorus. Later on in the song, the feature a fight section: pitting 5 seconds of music-box against 5 seconds of ruthless guitar slamming- multiple times. That’s the type of chaos that The Detholz! propagate. Is it awesome? You bet your bottom dollar it is.

You like bass? Check out the sick intro to “Robot Insurrection Hymn”- quite possibly the coolest bass solo ever. The weird chords that are placed on top of it just enhance the bass line. The chorus of this is great- a bunch of the Detholz clan singing the ‘robot insurrection hymn’- which consists of ‘la, la, la’ for about thirty seconds. The song is about getting rid of those pesky humans, by the way.

We haven’t even mentioned the Queen-reminescent “The Body Electric” or the hopelessly catchy “Last Train to Mars” or the creepy coolness of “Scientific Eye” or the jittery junk-rock vibes of “Invisible Man”. We’ll speak of “Invisible Man”- the intro has so many chord changes in it that you will be blown out of your seat. It’s just truly unpredictable- it takes convention and throws it to the wind. In fact, this entire album does. The hacked up chorus of “Invisible Man” is just brilliant- you may find yourself chanting “In-visi-ble! In-visi-ble! In-visi-ble!” after hearing this song.

If you like creative, fun rock, then you must check out this release. It’s one of those albums that changes your view on things- you’ll start thinking of new music in a whole different vein- “Is this band worthy enough to wipe the Detholz!’s shoes?” If not- well, you probably shouldn’t be listening to that band. But you definitely should be listening to the Detholz!

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.

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