Having already reviewed half of the Theanti/Lamps split CD Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot, I went in knowing partly what to expect. I was looking forward to some crunchy, gritty post-hardcore rock with a penchant for artsiness, interspersed with whatever Lamps contributed.
In the press kit, I found that Lamps and Theanti are the same people – Theanti is the traditional band, and Lamps is the improv side. The importance of that knowledge was lost on me until I started listening to the album.
Theanti’s songs are thick, rhythmically complex and well-designed. Lamps’ are the natural counter to that aesthetic – the songs are built on a single melodic theme and usually rhythmically simple. Yet there is an overarching mood to the entire album due to the fact that the same two people composed it. This makes it a very complete listen – the cramped, gritty mood is cohesive, but the songwriting is varied and unpredictable. With everything from charging rockers to rickety acoustic numbers, this split has it all.
Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot is not a very comforting listen, as the players love their distortion and like dissonance, but it’s a very good listen that I would easily recommend to anyone interested in louder music. I enjoyed Theanti and Lamps better together than separately: if I had heard Lamps by itself I would have crowed for more complexity, and Lamps plus Theanti is even better than Theanti by itself.
Theanti/[http://www.indermamusic.com/lamps.html”>Lamps – Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot
TheAnti’s half of Dot with a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot (which you can hear here astonished me. I’m used to stuff from Inderma Records being almost impossibly indie – as close to indecipherable as possible, but still retaining that last shred of melodicism. Whether it be ambient, improv or even singer/songwriter, I expect undefinable weirdness from Inderma Records.
That’s why I was floored when cohesive song structures busted out of my speakers. I was even more amazed that the stuff was incredibly tightly recorded – I’ve also come to expect odd, lo-to-mid-fi recordings from them.
But the thing that really blew my mind, spun me on my head and let me know that Theanti is committed to being as unexplainable and indefinable as their previous releases is the fact that even though these songs are real songs and not experiments, they’re still entirely unclassifiable.
Theanti combines the raw speed and intensity of punk, the aggressive yet artsy melodicism of post-hardcore and the gritty clang of indie-rock to create songs that burn with a raw passion that is extremely rare. These songs are powered by adrenaline, and although there are still rhythmic freakouts, they serve to further the purpose of fist-pumping rock’n’roll.
Opener “The Cancer Generation” is the epitome of Theanti’s evolution, jumping back and forth between quickly-strummed gritty guitar lines and slower, melodic sections with layers of angst-ridden vocals cascading over the top. It sounds like all of the best aspects of MeWithoutYou with a searing, honest shot of realism replacing MWY’s brooding moodiness.
“What Keeps You Alive Can Kill You” swerves even closer towards pop music with (dare I say it) memorable melodies amid the yelling and clanging. It sounds a little bit like the punk revival that Latterman and the rest of the New York punks are creating. But right when it starts to seem like something, it changes – the rhythms that the drummer infuses here really swing the sound towards something recognizable to listeners of post-hardcore and old-school emo.
“We Are Ruins” has a catchy melody augmented by a nifty rhythmic pattern – and the vocals are even sung. The best rhythmic freakout of the entire four songs is captured here, before bashing into the most straight-forward rock section of the entire set. This is stuff that Mars Volta fans would eat up, for sure. The guitar and drum work here is nothing short of torrential. It’s fantastic.
“People Like to Talk” would be a three-minute pop song, if Theanti didn’t go and make it more interesting by adding sampled clips of people talking and wild, passionate, barely-contained vocals. It just serves to show that sometimes the most unexpected thing an unconventional band can do is throw something conventional out and show just how bad everyone else is at doing it.
Theanti continues to amaze me with each release. Inderma Records is actually selling this split (for 5 bucks, but still, they’re actually selling something), which is a new development as well. Maybe everyone’s growing up. Maybe the world is ending. For sure, you should check out this split, because if Lamps is half as good as Theanti is, this will be something you regret missing.
I’ve been a fan of Josh Ramon’s work since 2006, when I discovered his bands Theanti and Lamps on the label Inderma Music; I liked them so much that it appears I reviewed their Dot With a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP twice. (I liked it more the second time, apparently.)
Ramon is back with one old and one new collaborator as Keeps, and the band’s sophomore album No Bridges has been keeping me off-guard for the last few weeks. Ramon and co. are comfortable playing both improvised indie-rock and the traditional, song-based variety, and Keeps is the latter: The arrangements are comparatively tight and song lengths hover around four minutes. The big difference from then to now is the weight of the songs.
The band still has elements of their erratic, spontaneous self of old, but No Bridges incorporates those elements into thoughtful songwriting and deft atmosphere control. Excellent use of abrupt entries and exits makes opener “Cantland” and closer “Arkansas Blackbird” into the highlights they are: sections roil and churn in guitar sludge, only to snap into wiry riffs before blasting off to more sections of rock. The forlorn guitars/distant vocals/pounding drums outro of “Arkansas Blackbird” is one of the more haunting ends to an album I’ve heard this year, especially since it appears suddenly.
There are some songs of both sides of the spectrum: “Midwest Urn” is a raging rocker that makes me think of the thoughtful anger of late ’90s and early 2000s post-hardcore. But even that song has a slow section toward the end before picking up for the conclusion. “Someone Wanted More” is a pensive, acoustic-led post-rock-type piece, albeit with some distortion and dissonance thrown in to keep the vibe going.
No Bridges works better as a whole album, like the aforementioned late ’90s post-hardcore and similar-era math rock. I didn’t really listen to music in theose genres for particular songs: I listened for how the music felt and made me feel. (This is the argument Chuck Klosterman makes for ’80s metal, and, by extension, pretty much all music in Fargo Rock City.) Post-hardcore’s aesthetic of getting the emotion down instead of being technically perfect is big here as well; Ramon’s oft-desperate, impassioned voice is a great emotive vehicle. He ekes out some memorable melodies (“Arkansas Blackbird”), but the more important thing is that it all sounds slightly unhinged (the ironically titled “Stayble,” “Old Tangled”). Whether leading with an acoustic guitar melody, an erratic guitar line or churning distortion, No Bridges seems teetering over the edge of something.
Keeps’ No Bridges reminds of the early 2000s, when dark, heavy, thoughtful rock was trying to maintain artistic integrity by staving off those who would turn it into emotionally abrasive hardcore, simplify it into pop-punk, or become whatever Brand New is now. But the “everybody else” sides of the sound won, leaving pretty much only Thursday to carry the flag for thoughtful, aesthetically-refined rockers. Keeps does not sound like Thursday, nor does Keeps have a telegraphed political bent. However, the aesthetic ideals seem correlated, and it’s really encouraging to hear Keeps go to bat for loud, intricate, thoughtful rock without pretension, irony or coat-tailing in some other genre. Highly recommended.
In the spirit of Russkaja, Morricone Youth, Iver, and Blue Ink Rebellion, here’s another bizarre and awesome new thing from Independent Clauses: Inderma Records. Yes, it’s an entire record label this time. Inderma Records specializes in improvisational music- music that hasn’t been made before it is performed/recorded and probably won’t ever be played in that way again. It is spontaneous songwriting that tests the chemistries of musicians to the maximum. It’s kind’ve like jazz, only without a commonly accepted point of reference. The collective state of mind of the group is the point of reference for a song.
These bands range from the rather complex, multi-person antics of Alchemy is Fire to the ambient, fuzzy Theanti to the dissonant and clangy duo Lamps to the extremely quirky, lo-fi pop of Cody Pike. Each have a say on this comp, whether it be Alchemy is Fire’s 15-minute long improv freak-out “Intergalactic Antics”, or Lamps’ two six-minute contributions, or Theanti’s shorter, glitchy ambient pieces.
Although this album is extremely interesting and exciting to me as a lover of new and interesting music, the point of improv isn’t to sit around and listen to it in your house. Improv is a live experience and as such, these recordings merely serve as impetus to go see the bands live. Cody Pike and Theanti have higher replay value, but bands like Alchemy is Fire and Lamps have little replay value. This is not to say they aren’t brilliant bands- it’s just that recordings are not the preferred method of hearing them. But sometimes there is no other way.
I’m thrilled that Inderma Records exists to help out bands like these. I think everyone deserves a fair shake, and the good people up at Inderma are making it easier for bands to do what they love. Everyone should hear this album, just to see what is happening- and since Inderma is a non-profit organization that makes all its albums available on their website, you can. Go there. It might inspire you.
Band Name: Various
Album Name: Assemblage Vol 1.0 DVD
Best Element: Really high quality choices.
Genre: Metalcore/Emo/Punk/indie….all separately, not a mix.
Label Name: Grey Two-Eleven Records
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Grey two-eleven’s Assemblage Vol. 1 is a very interesting release. It’s like a compilation album- only it’s a DVD of music videos instead of a CD of songs. I will treat this like I treat comps, because I really can’t think of any other way to review it fairly.
This is simply a stellar release. There are twenty music videos on this DVD, and of those twenty, only two bored me. Ironically, the two culprits of video boredom were two bands that would otherwise be praised: Copeland and Dismemberment Plan.
The Grey Two-Eleven staff did a great job picking these videos on many levels, picking a quality batch of songs in multiple genres that showcase a lot of different styles of video and varying levels of exposure.
After starting off with a bizarre concept video from pop-punkers Name Taken, this DVD launches right into the good stuff- darker punk band The Exit’s contribution “Lonely Man’s Wallet” is a great song with a brilliant story-telling video. The video shows the band in what seems to be a subway, watching various “lonely” people spend their money in various ways: gambling, drinking, whoring, etc. It’s a really well-crafted video and excited me for the rest of the release. Poison the Well’s metalcore contribution is a very well-shot but rather unexciting video of the band playing in a large barn- thankfully, “Botchla” is a good enough song to save the video. Indie-punkers .moneen. contribute a concert video, and while these normally suck, .moneen. shows that they know how to throw a party: doing backflips, surfing the audience, wrecking their equipment, running around the stage, and generally causing mayhem. It’s really fun to watch.
Ultimate Fakebook contributes hilarious satire on their genre of rock-n-roll by teaching a ‘rock-n-roll class’, one-man indie-pop project Onelinedrawing shoots a home video of Jonah Matranga walking around trying to make people smile, The Waking Hours and the Weakerthans pull off geek-rock with fervent abandon, and Blueline Medic partially succeeds at spearing the corrupt corporate and political systems by shooting a very low-key, thoughtful video to a punkish anthem.
These are all highlights, but the two absolute best videos are entered by The Beautiful Mistake and The Jealous Sound. The Beautiful Mistake’s “On Building” isn’t even one of their best songs, but the video for it amazing. It’s a story video that shows a man in a restaurant walking up to the waitress, talking to her, and giving her his card. He leaves. She leaves as well, returning to her abusive boyfriend/husband, who has already messed up her daughter and sets in on her. A montage scene of the man in the diner feeling the woman’s pain ensues- a simply stunning touch. The woman gets a gun, and murders the abuser- she calls the man in the diner. He runs in, takes the gun from her, wipes it of prints, and when the police come, he is the one arrested for the murder. The woman is in anguish. I’m in awe. It’s probably one of the coolest videos I’ve ever seen.
The Jealous Sound has an amazing video as well, but this video shows the band playing in a room lit with lamps that keep flickering on and off, casting weird shadows on the members of the band. The cinematography on “The Fold Out” is painstakingly and beautifully created, as the multiple camera views all have a purpose. The eerie ambience of the scene is only enhanced by the really, really tight indie-rock in the background- exactly how a song and video should play off each other. If the song weren’t as amazing as it is, the video wouldn’t be as powerful as it is, and vice-versa. Excellence.
This is a really excellent way to find out about new bands, and I highly recommend that you check this DVD out. I am a fan of music videos, and this compilation made my day when I watched it. I hope to see more of these compilations in the future, as this DVD’s high quality, quantity, and range make it one of the best ideas to come across my table in a while.
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.