Young Legs‘ Promise of Winter starts off in summer with the uber-perky “Resolution” but travels through the seasons to the depth of winter by the close of the album. During the journey, Steven Donahue shows off deft control of mood and impeccable melodic skill. These tunes circle the central node of Donahue’s confident, breathy voice: whether it’s employed in a frantic, minor-key indie-rock tune [“Ring of Salt (Youth Culture Dummy Version)”], a major-key jangle-rock tune (“The Apple Stem”), a banjo-led folk tune (“Book of the Lethe”) or a complex a capella venture (“Northfield”), Donahue’s voice shines. (Wiry, quirky, zooming synthesizers appear in several well-chosen spots, giving this a friendly, unusual texture.)
Even though there are a wide variety of styles here, the core of the album is composed of Donahue’s voice and a guitar. “Goodbye, John Ryle,” “Round the Root,” and “Seasons of Giving” fall firmly within the folk camps, ranging from Nick Drake-ian lightness (“Round the Root”) to Songs: Ohia gloominess (particularly as you go farther into the album). The melodies throughout each style are compelling, showing that Donahue isn’t a one-trick pony. From whispery folk to brash indie-rock, the songwriting here never falters. It’s a charming release, through and through. Anyone who’s into acoustic-led indie music will have a field day with Promise of Winter.
Battle Ave.‘s Year of Nod is the opposite of Young Legs’ wide-ranging genre fiesta: instead, it’s a laser-focused exploration of a particular sonic space. Jesse Alexander and co. have made an album that explores the whispery, sleepy, eerie spaces in-between dusk and dark, or between dark and dawn. This is the sort of thing that the phrase indie rock was built for: it’s got the underlying assumptions of rock, but it’s not taking them in a stereotypically riff-bound, v/c/v structure. Alexander’s weary, wailing voice fits perfectly with these tunes, from the perky “Summer Spear” to the intimate, quiet “Helen (This Isn’t Meant to Offend).”
Everything in between those sonic poles (“Zoa,” “In Evil Hour,” “Say Say Oh Enemy”) plays with the tension between hissing found sound, misty ambient noises, and traditional indie-rock vibes–the 7-minute “Zoa” includes both an upbeat clapping section and an arhythmic melancholy interlude that is best characterized by Alexander’s wordless sighs and vocal noises. Battle Ave. has both of these things inside themselves, and the resulting tunes are the tension between them. Year of Nod is a frequently elegant, occasionally dissonant, always interesting indie-rock album–those interested in thoughtful, careful sonic art would do well to check this out.
Even though spring is officially today, it iced two days ago in Raleigh. It’s been a long winter, so it’s nice to start thinking about and hearing summer (even if I can’t see it yet). Here are some summery tunes for you, with occasional interjections from fall (everything folky sounds like fall, sorry bout that).
1. “The Sun” – Sleepers Bells. Jesse Alexander keeps busy: he’s in IC favorites Battle Ave. and The Miami, as well as releasing a solo project under the name Sleepers Bells. This track combines the Titus Andronicus punk fervor of BA with the wild vocals and mournful sadness of The Miami for a completely fascinating track.
2. “Ether” – Gentle Robot. Is night-time rock a thing? (Bloc Party says yes?) If so, that’s where Gentle Robot lives: dark but not angry, melancholy but not brooding, loud but not abrasive.
3. “Raise a Glass” – Monsenior. Bouncy indie-pop that evenly balances weight and effervescence. This one never loses its grounding as a bass-heavy tune, but it’s still a ton of fun.
4. “Beauty’s Bones” – Villa Kang. Combinines giant, thwomping ’80s electro-pop beats with some wistful ’00s indie-vibes in the vocals. The ghost of MGMT hangs low over this summer banger. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
5. “Concorde” – Incan Abraham. No better title for this Springsteen-meets-’80s electro cut than the sadly-no-more jet.
6. “Til Tomorrow” – DWNTWN. We have entered “summery pop” season. It couldn’t get here fast enough, for my money.
8. “Dare the Dream (Challenger Remix)” – Pure Bathing Culture. IC faves Challenger give the dreamy PBC cut an even dreamier take, turning it into an ethereal-yet-triumphant take on the tune.
9. “Towers” – Orphan Mothers. Smooth, delicate R&B-esque tune with some indie-rock flair in the guitar. Remember The Antlers? They’d be jamming to this.
10. “She’s Falling” – Breanna Kennedy. It seems like I’m including one adult alternative track per mix. This week’s AA track features a nicely understated chorus; it’s great to not hear a gigantic instrumental explosion every now and then.
11. “Flaws” – Vancouver Sleep Clinic. Falsetto over electro/acoustic jams is either going to invoke James Blake or Bon Iver until further notice. Still, this is a beautiful track.
12. “Burning Promises” – GreenHouse. Piano, synths, found sound, and dry percussion come together to make a relaxing tune. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
Most bands find Independent Clauses through word of mouth: a musician talks about a review I ran, and that musician’s friends send in their stuff to me. This is, I assume, how SubFamily Alliance’s first compilation features at least three bands that have submitted work to Independent Clauses.
The 10-track S/F/A Summer Sampler is heavy on garage rock and folk, with a few other things scattered in. I’m currently high on folk and low on garage rock, so I was big on Elijah and the Moon’s “Map and Compass” and The Miami’s “Kneebone.” Elijah and the Moon’s contribution had a Josh Ritter-esque arrangement and aura, but the lead vocals were far more brazen and raw than Ritter usually uses. It’s a passionate, beautiful song that will resonate with fans of Mumford and Sons. The Miami’s “Kneebone” is an atypical folk song, starting off with a martial intro that breaks off suddenly and reveals a mumbling, feverish lead vocalist leading a call and response. The group responds “Oh, oh, Kneebone man,” to all of the lead vocalist’s entreaties, creating an entrancing tune that’s the standout of the group. Hiding Behind Sound’s “Winter 2011” is a folky sort of post-rock that calls up Devotchka, Balmorhea and Seryn, but it doesn’t belabor the point. It clocks in just under 2:00.
On the rock side, Battle Ave. contributes “Whose Hands Are These?” from their excellent album art-rock album War Paint. The Coasts and Regular Fucked Up People contribute garage rock that doesn’t stray too far from the tenets of the genre. The New Diet plays some sludgy, heavy rock, while Time Travels contributes its pop-rock inverse in sound and mood.
I’m excited to see what SubFamily Alliance puts out in the future; their diverse membership is going in some quite interesting directions. I’d be sure to check out Elijah and the Moon, Battle Ave., and The Miami. [Editor’s note: This album is no longer available.]
Now my SXSW fervor has kicked into high gear: I sent out the “Who’s playing SXSW?” e-mail to all the bands that IC has covered in the last four years. With some luck and good planning, I’ll be able to see a large number of bands with which I’ve previously only had a computer-mediated relationship.
I can’t wait to hear of more IC bands who will be kicking it at SXSW. If you’re going, hit me up with an e-mail (indieclauses[at]gmail.com) or a tweet (Scarradini). SXSW is crazy, and I don’t know who all I’ll be able to see, but I want to know who’s going to be there. Awesome.
I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.
Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem – Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.
It’s very telling that Kevin McMahon produced Battle Ave.‘s War Paint, as McMahon had a hand in both Titus Andronicus releases, work by The Walkmen and Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Each of these bands feature an extremely emotional singer going nuts in an atypical musical setting, and War Paint is not outside McMahon’s oeuvre in that regard.
Battle Ave’s unhinged frontman is Jesse Alexander, whose anguished voice ranges from indignant slurring to full-on roar. It’s highly reminescent of Patrick Stickles’ voice (Titus Andronicus). But instead of couching it in a workingman’s punk ethos, Battle Ave. sets Alexander in the midst of an indie-rock maelstrom.
The band can get just as furious and frantic as TA (“Whose Hands Are These?”, every other song on the album), but the bands start at different ends of the spectrum. Andronicus’ pathos comes after a calming down of rage, while Battle Ave ratchets up to a cacophony.
Battle Ave. strangely calls to mind the band that Patrick Stickles least likes to be compared to: Bright Eyes. Those who love the catharsis of “Road to Joy” and the conviction of tunes like “Train Underwater” and “Another Traveling Song” will find emotional analogues here, especially in the gorgeous, horn-filled “Complications w/The Home (Hernia)”. Most of BA’s tunes blow up past the heavy end of “Road to Joy” at their apex, but you’ll feel a similar emotional connection.
In stark contrast to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, however, the songs sprawl all over the place. Their length and seeming formlessness (exactly zero choruses) call to mind Braids’ Native Speaker, although these guitars definitely go to 11 (“Puke Lust”). Because of that, it’s a tough album to grab onto. It’s not designed to be catchy, nor is it organized in easily digestible bits. This is art. The band is saying something, and if that’s not your thing, then this isn’t your thing.
Thanks to the vocal delivery, however, it’s difficult to make out what the point is. Track titles, album art and snatches of lyrics here and there make out the beginnings of a picture, but this (like The Monitor) is an album to which listeners should dedicate time. That’s an incredible artistic risk in this day and age, but I believe music is worth that, so time it will get (from me, at least).
I realize that I’ve spent less time describing songs and sounds than I usually do. I can explain that “Complications w/Traveling” is a noise-laden dream dirge, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Battle Ave.’s compositions are pretty unique, so I don’t want to waste time explaining every detail. I do, however, want to convince the people who might listen to it that they should – and the import of the album is the best way to discuss that.
The album really does have weight. The guitar tones and styles lend the album a cohesive feel, even when the band incorporates carnivalesque rhythms (as in the standout, 10-minute “”K. Divorce” (For Mildred)”). This was painstakingly written, crafted and ordered, and as a result War Paint is one of the most interesting indie-rock albums I’ve heard all year. If you’re into noisy indie-rock as art, then you should do yourself a favor and pick up Battle Ave.’s latest – you’ll find many moments of bliss.