Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ICYMI: MD Woods / Gregory Pepper / Tyto Alba

November 17, 2015

mdwoods

MD Woods‘ Young and Vain, Vol. 2 may describe the lifestyles of characters with the titular qualities, but it approaches the studies from a world-weary perspective instead of an impetuous one. The alt-country band, led by the whiskey-soaked voice of Nicholas Moore, comes off desperate and ragged in its moods, like Damien Rice on the alt-country frontier. It should be noted that these are strictly compliments: tunes like “Vomit” make being emotionally wracked seem like a noble idea, if not a desirable one. The melodies are compelling, the lyrics are tight, and the song styles are varied–there’s definitely a lot going on despite the general timbre of the lyrics.

The arrangements compliment the emotional damage by being surprisingly tight: from background vocals to swooping strings to rock-steady drums, the band provides a framework for Moore to get unhinged in. The bright, clear recording and engineering make the final product more accessible, providing a clean window to see the band through. The results are compelling mix of major key and minor key tunes that you can sing along to and enjoy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way.

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It’s easy to put Gregory Pepper‘s Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! in the ICYMI category, because if you blink you’ll miss it: Pepper blitzes through 10 songs in under 14 minutes. This uncommonly aggressive approach to the “hit it and quit it” songwriting mentality creates an album of perfect melodies that appear once or twice, lodge in your brain forever, and then disappear into the next tune. The post-Weezer pop-rock that blazes its way through your eardrums is undeniably, irresistibly pristine: “Crush On You” and “Smart Phones for Stupid People” are fuzzed-out midtempo glory; “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)” is a pseudo-metal pop-rock stomper; “Come By It Honestly” is an “Only in Dreams”-esque slow jam and the longest tune on the record, tipping the scales at 1:40.

But it’s not all Weezer-esque crunchy guitars. Pepper has an idiosyncratic vocal and melodic sensibility that delivers highly sarcastic and ironic lyrics in an earnest pop-rock style reminiscent of It’s a King Thing, only without the breathy sweetness. Pepper is singing straightforward melodies that still manage to bend my mind, as the endlessly fascinating, gymnastic opener “Welcome to the Dullhouse” shows. But it’s not enough to just create wild melodies, clever tunes and ironic lyrics: occasionally all the sarcasm drops and reveals pretty raw honesty as an extra layer to the tune (“I Wonder Whose Dick You Had to Suck?,” “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)”). It’s a lot to ride on songs that barely (or don’t) break 60 seconds, but Pepper masterfully handles the incredible amount of things going on. It’s not easy to edit yourself down to the bare bones and still deliver a multi-layered experience that’s both fun and deep, but Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! is that rarest of albums that pulls it off. If you’re into indie-pop-rock, you need this one in your life.

tytoalba

I try to keep up with what’s cool in indie rock so that I’m not constantly namechecking the Hives and Death Cab for Cutie, but keeping up with what’s going on in alt-rock is way harder for me. As I was casually reading through Spin’s (biased, subjective, etc.) list of 50 best rock bands right now, I was pleasantly surprised to see Paramore up at number 9. I thought they had been lumped in with Flyleaf as lame, but I was wrong! (Is Flyleaf cool?) Which is great, because I feel totally guiltless comparing Tyto Alba’s Oh Tame One EP to a more mood-heavy Paramore. Melanie Steinway’s vocals soar and roar in front of an alt-rock backdrop that isn’t as gritty as everyone’s favorite indie grunge band Silversun Pickups (check the arpeggiated guitar on “Passenger”) but isn’t as post-rock-flavored as bands like Athletics.

Instead, they prefer to mix artsy rhythms and nuanced guitarscapes with rock song structures: “Deer” mixes a carefully patterned rhythm guitar line with a moseying lead guitar line that echoes back to The Photo Album-era Death Cab before exploding into guitar theatrics for the chorus (of sorts). The careful picking of the lead guitar line in “Divide” juxtaposes with groove-heavy bass and drums (but not as dance-tastic as in standout “New Apathy,” which is simply impressive) before building into the most memorable chorus on the EP, driven by multiple vocal melodies interacting. It’s the sort of work Tyto Alba excels at: twisting your expectations of what a rock song should do without totally overhauling the model. If you’re into thoughtfully distorted guitars with some groove-heavy elements, Oh Tame One will fit nicely in your collection.

Corrin Campbell shows versatility in modern rock and pop

July 12, 2010

It’s a good time for women in rock. Paramore is having enormous success, Flyleaf is rockin’ it, and many more women in rock are coming out of the woodwork. Corrin Campbell is one of those.

The best moments of Campbell’s Game Night come when her vocals and songwriting style fall firmly in the arena with Paramore and Flyleaf’s melodic heavy rock. She does have some passable lighter material where she plays keys, but the best work is when she picks up her bass and rocks out. “Sunbeam”  channels Muse, opener “Find Your Way” has an Evanescence feel (remember them?), and “Always Be” feels like a heavier Kelly Clarkson.

Of the lighter stuff, “Remember Me” has a nice driving vibe, and “A New Page” is pretty, but the rock songs make a more consistent impression. Her voice fits over the keys nicely, in a very different way than her voice fits over the rock songs, which is a nice surprise. It’s good to hear a voice with versatility.

Corrin Campbell’s Game Night is a solid effort that establishes Campbell as a songwriter with a lot of room to grow in any direction. She could choose rock or mellow pop and run with it for a very solid collection of songs. She just needs to choose where she wants to go and go there.  Recommended for fans of rock bands with girl singers.

Absinthe Junk combines modern rock, world music and powerful female vocals

March 21, 2010

Sometimes a band comes along that’s really good and I just don’t like very much for personal reasons. I call it my Dave Matthews Syndrome. I can acknowledge that Dave Matthews is a talented musician, but I very much do not like his music. It’s not interesting to me, despite my many friends who enjoy it and play me acoustic covers of his songs while we’re sitting around hanging out.

Absinthe Junk is one of those bands, and the reason I don’t like it is because of the female vocalist. I don’t like female vocalists in rock music, for whatever reason. I’m not saying women shouldn’t be in rock, nor that they can’t be excellent rock stars. I’m saying that I dislike frontwomen. Millions of people love Flyleaf and Paramore; I hold nothing against the fans or the bands. I just don’t like it.

On that note, it must be noted that fans of Flyleaf and Paramore will also be great big fans of Absinthe Junk. Absinthe Junk’s Living Ghosts rocks out hard in the modern rock vein, giving lead singer Blair (just Blair, in true rock star form) the platform to make a mark for herself in the pantheon of women rock vocalists. And she makes the best of it, turning out blistering performances where needed (“Commercialized Waste,” “Swear to Me,” “Sweet Vaccine”), slow-burning performances (“Precious Delirium”), or no performance (the instrumental freak-out “Road to Damnation,” dreamy “Living Ghosts”). Her powerful voice carries the sound and makes the band what it is.

The band is no slouch either, led by Blair’s violin-playing chops toward distinctly non-American tones in their music. “Road to Damnation” makes modern rock with Celtic and Middle Eastern overtures in the same tune. That’s impressive.  “Rust” combines those Middle Eastern sounds with brittle electronic sounds and charging riffs. Instrumental title track “Living Ghosts” further explores sounds from the Arab world.

And they do all this while playing tight, well-recorded modern rock. The production values on this disc are immaculate, which helps out the songs. If not recorded as confidently and perfectly as they are, this might sound campy or weird. But it all works perfectly, going off without a hitch.

If you’re a fan of modern rock, this is definitely up your alley. Flyleaf and Paramore fans should take note as well. It’s definitely good.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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