The Bellfuries‘ Workingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.
By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.
On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.
McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.
It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.
1. “Whine of the Mystic” – Nap Eyes. Major-key guitar-rock infused with so much martial tension from the drums and the wavering high guitar part that it feels like it is always about to explode–with the exception of the preternaturally calm vocalist that tethers the tune the ground. The tune never explodes in giant guitar fury. I’m impressed.
2. “Getaway” – Jaill. Bass-heavy surf-rock that eschews much of the whining treble that categorizes the genre: suddenly, it just sounds like tip-top driving pop-rock music.
3. “Be What You Are” – The Cairo Gang. The less garage-y garage rock gets, the more it sounds like ’60s rock and pop. This has Beach Boys, Beatles, Kinks, and more influences crammed into it. Rock on.
4. “Incarceration Casserole” – Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Uncorked James Brown-esque soul/funk complete with sax meets blast-off ’50s rock in a high-energy blender of a song that’s about not knowing how to make food and eat because his wife is in jail. This is the first time you’ve heard a song like this.
5. “Creature” – It Looks Sad. Every now and then a punk song jumps out of the ether, slaps me across the face, and demands that I cover it. This one, with its towering choruses, huge-yet-not-abrasive guitars, and early ’00s/White Octave-esque emotional palette did that to me.
6. “Kashyyyk” – We Take Fire. A mind-bending genre blender of a song that combines post-rock, post-hardcore, dance-rock, and Coheed & Cambria-esque flights of fancy into one massively headturning rock song.
7. “Smokesignals” – The Feel Bad Hit. Here’s an punk-inspired instrumental rock tune that has nothing post- about it: the band just crushes it without vocals. ‘Nuff said.
8. “Love Like Crazy” – Jessica Lee Wilkes. Wilkes offers up some sax-powered, vaguely surfy vintage pop that sounds fresh as anything.
9. “Crossing on a Bend” – Bourbon Street Beat. Not a big rockabilly fan? Try this track, which includes enough modern melodic sentiment to seem less uncomfortably foreign and more exotic and interesting.
10. “Port City” – I Am the Albatross. Buoyant acoustic rhythm guitar, crunchy electric guitars (complete with guitar solo!), jubilant chorus, creaky vocals, big drums: this is an old-school rock tune, y’all.
11. “Business” – The Good Field. I have an ambient understanding of what ’70s AM radio rock sounded like: warm, major-key, fuzzed out, concerned with formal songwriting tactics, and generally hooky. The Good Field fit my impressionistic ideas of what that style sounded like to a T.
12. “Aubrey” – Lake Malawi. Low-slung but still peppy, chilled-out but still energetic, this sounds like a Strokes-ian indie band accidentally getting lost in ’80s radio pop and emerging with an artifact that isn’t either genre, exactly.
13. “Young” – Kyle and the Pity Party. This song declares “I’d do anything for you/I’d even listen to Brand New/if that’s what you want me to.” Without waxing poetic about the early 2000s (Deja Entenduforever), I can confidently say that this sort of emotional rock and roll is a direct descendant of that scene (with some of the angular edges worn off).
Phratry‘s State Song has one of the strangest RIYLs I’ve ever seen: The Shins, Sunny Day Real Estate and Ziggy Stardust. I almost entirely disagree with The Shins reference, as there is nothing quirky, warm or bubbly about Dear Hearts & Gentle People whatsoever. Even when I sub in Death Cab for Cutie (a more appropriate RIYL), that’s still one of the weirdest lists ever.
But they are all real elements of State Song’s sound. The modus operandi of State Song’s members is to make songs that have the intensity and aesthetics of rock songs, but the drama and melodies of pop songs. The mix also skews more toward the vocal-centric engineering of pop music. The band that most closely appropriated this style was Deja Entendu-era Brand New, making that album the ultimate (if a bit esoteric) RIYL. Tunes like “4-6prn” move from from nuanced, quiet pop songs to an all-out rock attack, capped off by the mournful roar of Scot Torres.
Torres has the sort of voice I adore. His is on the high end of baritone, so he can ratchet up to a mindblowing intensity without succumbing to a whiny tone. His comfortable range is somewhere around where most people talk, but he can command a muscly tone that borders on a scream (“Highway Machine (Loud Version)”) when he wants to make a point. But when he’s just singing comfortably, his voice sounds weary and real (“Skeleton Key”). If the voice is what makes pop music, he’s got a voice to make it happen.
The songs are brilliant as well; from the emo-rock of opener “Blank Lake” to the supremely Death Cab-esque chill of “The Concierge,” the songs are instantly enjoyable. In addition to its immediacy, it has staying power: It’s a rare album where each song reveals its own wonders, while still hanging together in a cohesive mood. “Houses” drops in some synths that create great atmosphere before the song explodes into throat-shredding, distortion-crushing angst. Then it goes back. “Dig” sounds like a tougher Bright Eyes, which is a huge compliment from over here.
Dear Hearts & Gentle People is an excellent album. Not much rock has impressed me this year, as it’s all just the same old same old. But State Song‘s ten-song collection brings vitality to their songwriting and thus is currently sitting atop the list of “best rock in 2011.” Fans of Brand New will be all over this. Can we get the bands on tour together? Kthx.
Phratry Records‘ release of split 7″ albums is a show of faith in the importance of rock and roll. Seven-inchers are pretty much most inefficient mode of releasing music there is: two songs on two sides of vinyl. The rare band and label that still puts money into pressing 7″ believes not only in the particular band being pressed, but in the importance that a single song can have. Is releasing one song by two bands each important? Most say no. Phratry Records says, “Eff yeah!”
So, for the next three days, we’ll be featuring the three latest Phratry records releases, which are all 7″ vinyl. This first one is a Caterpillar Tracks/Arms Exploding split, with the A side being CT’s “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team” and the B side being Arms Exploding’s “Of Luxury & Branding.”
Caterpillar Tracks’ post-punk offering here is cemented by a pounding, staccato rhythm that becomes a head-bobbing groove after the ears get accustomed to it (and there’s plenty of time to normalize it, as the rhythm forms the basis for the entire song). The guitars squiggle, squirm and leap over it, making dissonant melodies and odd rhythms over the insistent thrum from the rhythm section. The vocals are a clear, undistorted yell; there’s no rasp, nor is there any hysteria in the screaming. The vocalist is passionate, but he doesn’t portray it by getting crazy. This song is relatively short, unfortunately, but it makes a big impression. I loved “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team,” as it reminded me of what Deep Elm Records’ Red Animal War and what Brand New could have been like if they had they taken a slightly harder route out of Deja Entendu.
Arms Exploding’s track is much less contained than Caterpillar Tracks’ tune. The thrashing punk of “Of Luxury & Branding” features cymbal-heavy drum work, shrieking guitars, wild yelling, full-out screaming, slashing rhythms, and lots of distortion. Where Caterpillar Tracks’ sound was contained and insistent, Arms Exploding is wild, frenetic and barely controlled. Arms Exploding seems the type of band that would end their sets with blood on the floor and equipment broken.
There is some restraint leveled in “Of Luxury & Branding,” as a stripped-back groove section gives a momentary respite from chaos. The song also ends on a loop of a off-kilter piano line, which was an unexpected move from such a wild and frantic piece. But the majority of this track is old-school punk rock: abrasive, unusual, unexpected, and challenging to the status quo.
Both of these tracks were worth the vinyl. My personal aesthetic draws me to Caterpillar Tracks over Arms Exploding, but the quality of both tracks ensures that there kids out there saying the same thing about Arms Exploding. Whether you get the seven-inch or download it digitally (lame), you should invest some cash in this release. It’s not just two great songs; it’s show of solidarity with Phratry Records’ statement that red vinyl is worth it.
In terms of what you should play to get famous as a band, The Felix Culpa wins. In terms of what you should do to get famous as a band, they have failed miserably. They released their first album Commitment in 2004. It was generally heralded as awesome by people like Alt Press, PunkNews.org and (yes) Independent Clauses. They followed it up in 2006 with an EP/DVD set (Thought Control), which was again met with raves. They then promised a full-length album, which had everyone in the scene drooling (yes, including us). Continue readingProof that The Felix Culpa is Alive and Kicking…
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.