Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Suavity's Mouthpiece pushes the boundaries of its experimental pop

May 18, 2011

I really enjoy reviewing multiple releases by the same artist, band or performer, as it’s fun to see how things change (or don’t). Suavity’s Mouthpiece vs. Music is the second release by the band that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, after The Passion of Suavity’s Mouthpiece. And boy, did they ever change.

While there were industrial undertones in The Passion, the majority of it was based around big band sounds. In Vs. Music, the palette is flipped; there are horn undertones, but it’s primarily an industrial/electro release. From the grinding, dissonant tones of “Sex Me Into a Straightjacket” to erratic synths of “Fire Me (Again),” this whole release is much more brittle and brutal than Suavity’s previous work.

This means that, intended or not, this is a lot closer to what people would consider rock than before (which was almost entirely absent in the first release). Just see “I Get Abstract,” which sounds somewhat like Mindless Self-Indulgence. Granted, MSI isn’t normal either, but everything’s relative in experimental music.

Songwriter J. Trafford’s chaotic sense of arrangement still holds; these songs are not for the faint of ear. Some of them sound like audio car wrecks in the amount of abrupt changes, without even mentioning the noises created. But, as in the previous release, it doesn’t seem the work of an inept composer — just an incredibly idiosyncratic one. This is best proven on “Fox Kraski,” which is proof that, if he feels like it, Suavity’s Mouthpiece can write a normal, pretty pop song.

Then again, “Crisis Welcomed” pairs some of the most painful noises SM has made with some of the most normal rhythms, making for an incredibly odd tension. “I Don’t Know Shit” is simply uncategorizable.

Suavity’s Mouthpiece vs. Music is definitely recommended for fans of experimental music. Trafford has a vision for his music, and this is the second time I’ve heard him bear that out in a hi-fi, well-recorded, totally crazy release.

Suavity's Mouthpiece turns a big band into a genre-spanning eclectic pop experience

March 3, 2010

Suavity's MouthpieceSometimes “experimental” is code for “lazy reviewer,” especially if the band has some talent but uses it in annoying ways. Just put that label on it, and there’s a bunch of people who will check it out simply because it has that title. But in the case of Suavity’s Mouthpiece, there’s really no other way to describe the music succinctly other than “experimental.” For instance, genres that get play here include: big band swing, industrial, elevator music, jazz, modern acoustic pop, ’50s-style pop (complete with period oversung vocals), and funk. Note that traditional words like “rock” and “indie” are completely absent from that list.

So, it’s a bit of a challenge to describe The Passion of Suavity’s Mouthpiece. The most ubiquitous piece of the sound is the big band, which appears in one way or another on almost every track. I don’t know if it’s a real live band or a digital recreation, but it sounds great, either way. The swing rhythms of the big band lend the underlying rhythms to every song, whether that rhythm is picked up by a Spanish acoustic guitar (“I’m Sick of Your Tedious Girlfriend”) a fifties-styled goofy pop song (“Looks, Looks, Looks”), or a dreamy ’50s pop ballad (“The Brains of Flies”).

Then, right when it seems that Suavity’s Mouthpiece has taken a big band and forced it into genres it’s not supposed to be in and forced it to work, Justin Trafford (born Justin Antoszewski, formerly performing as Sinclair McRickson) hangs a right at “Your Least Favorite Song.” The rest of the songs are Spanish guitar ballads with big band and electronica contributions. Once you get used to the abrupt changes in style that compose the style of Suavity’s Mouthpiece, even these seemingly disjointed songs sound somewhat cohesive.

I’m not saying that these are normal, by any means. Trafford sings, “I don’t think you understand how different I really am” in “Matinee,” and I don’t think I do. Because all of this experimentation doesn’t come about because of amateurishness or even as a cover for poor talent. Trafford has a great voice that he molds into several different sounds to fit the genres he travels through. When he lets the acting go and just sings, it’s remarkably calm, composed, and confident. Trafford could be making normal pop and getting really successful doing it; he has the voice, the songwriting skill, and the charisma to do it. But he prefers making the incredibly lucid and experimental pop of Suavity’s Mouthpiece.

This is an incredibly well-realized release. It’s recorded beautifully, written carefully, and performed with glee. It’s also performed in genres, idioms and styles that have been largely abandoned by modern pop music. That will make it challenging for some people to get into, but anyone who enjoys stuff outside the norm will find a treasure trove of sounds, rhythms and moods in The Passion of Suavity’s Mouthpiece. Interested parties can download it here.

The Radio Reds / ARP

October 18, 2013

radioreds

I absolutely love The Menzingers for their striking combination of tough vocals, melodic pop-punk chops, and intriguing lyrics. Whenever I find echoes of their work in bands, I jump on those releases. The Radio Reds’ Memory Loss hits all three of The Menzingers’ categories. Opener “Moloch” combines anthemic, soaring melodies with hard-hitting lyrics about the effects of war. The rest of the album traffics in more introspective, poetic material about interpersonal conflict, but “Moloch” is a blistering condemnation of the American treatment of veterans. Coming from a military family, it resonated hard.

Vocalist Stephen (no last name provided) keeps a tough edge on his vocals throughout the album, snarling a bit without turning the lines into yelling. (Don’t worry, there are some yelling sections for bros and girls in the pit: “Southern Belle,” “The Artist.”) This creates a nice tension that meshes neatly with the tension between the melodic sections of the tracks and the mash-those-chords breakdowns. The Radio Reds know how to balance the songwriting so that neither side of their songwriting style gets slighted. There are extremes, as “The Artist” is a furious street-punk endeavor that–enigmatically but excellently–includes horn in a third-wave ska fashion; “Let It Show” has the old-school pop-punk drumming style (always welcome in this corner), screamed vocals, and some metal overtones in the guitar work. On the other end, “Interlude” is just that, in fine, morose Brand New style. The horns reprise wonderfully, in a jazzier mode this time.

The Radio Reds have a lot going on in Memory Loss. They’re refining their own voice in the punk community, as well as tinkering with horns and quieter tunes (“Knife”) for variation. I look forward to seeing where The Radio Reds go from here, as Memory Loss is an engaging, intriguing listen for fans of The Menzingers, Titus Andronicus, The Gaslight Anthem, and the like.

ARP

Post-rock is about as avant-garde as I get, with rare exceptions. But ARP caught my attention with music that stretches the boundaries of pop music to the point that “Gravity (For Charlemagne Palestine)” sounds very much like strings-fronted post-rock. MORE is a weird trip through perky, charming music as thought through by a musician very interested in the deconstruction and reconstruction of sounds. “Invisible Signals,” the interlude following “Gravity,” is a spun-dial clip of radio found sounds: it leads directly into “More (Blues),” which is an Otis Redding-style blues/Motown/soul song complete with horns. ARP’s low tenor/high baritone voice fit nicely in the unexpected genre, and both arrangement and melody sound great.

It’s that sort of weird back alley that ARP is interested in on MORE, leading to the spaced-out intro of the harpsichord-driven “A Tiger in the Hall at Versailles” and a two-minute clip of nature sounds called “17th Daydream.” “V2 Slight Return” is a minute-long guitar experiment. “Persuasion” is a six-minute straight-ahead instrumental rock song. The sharp, clear production holds things together as well as it can, but your willingness to follow an experimenter where his trails and trials lead him is going to be the main feature in your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of ARP’s MORE. That, and whether you like optmistic post-rock. I enjoyed the album for its unique perspective, but this is certainly a “maybe not for everyone” release.

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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